iSpy – how does your phone know what you’re thinking? Is it listening to you?

Why, oh, spy does your phone know what you’re thinking? You spend an afternoon with your friends, chatting away about the weekend getaway you’re planning, or how you need a new pair of shoes. Suddenly you’re finding ads generated matching exactly that. How do they know? Who’s listening? What exactly do they know?

Monsters Inc always watching gif

šŸŽÆTargeted adverts

Have you ever been for a day out somewhere, and suddenly you’re receiving adverts directed at you for places to eat or visit within that city? That’s no coincidence, that is in fact your phone tracking you. Your phone knows where you are at all times, yes you can disable tracking on different apps but overall, wherever you go, your phone goes. This means that your phone can store the data of where you’ve been. Of course, this can be helpful. Phones now can track where you last parked your car, so no more walking around a car park looking crazy.

However, it can seem a little alarming when these adverts make their way onto your social pages. You don’t have to live somewhere and regularly engage with social media accounts in that area to receive targeted ads. All you have to have done is visit somewhere once, and your phone will store that data and allow companies that pay for adverts to start sending some your way. You might love this, it could be handy for you. Staying in London and unsure about where to eat? No need to search if the adverts are coming to you, right? Although, if you ask me, it does seem a little invasive. If I want that information, surely I’d look for it myself?

iPhone set-up page
Tyler Lastovich via Pexels

What about receiving an advert for Adidas when you’ve spent the morning searching for Nike sportswear? Companies will pay to appear in targeted adverts for their competitors. Crafty isn’t it? If the company know they can offer something you’re interested in, they want to get their products out there instead. They might promote their sales or discount codes within their adverts to show you they’re better value than their competition. It’s all to sway you into choosing them.

This also happens when you leave a site after browsing or add things to your basket and never complete the purchase. They’re basically trying to seal the deal by showing you what you’re missing. Still thinking about this product? Well no, but now you’ve shown it to me again, how can I not? It’s a clever way of boosting their sales or regaining site attraction.

šŸ’» It’s all in a day’s search

This is probably quite an obvious one, but many people won’t have thought about it. Your search history isn’t a secret. Your phone will know your personal secrets before you’ve even had time to process them yourself. If you’ve ever typed in something like ‘how do I get a promotion?’ or ‘how to lose weight’ – prepare yourself to be inundated with adverts for schmoosing your boss or diet plans that are guaranteed to work.

Your phone, computer, tablet (basically any electronic device you use) will store all of your data in some secretive bubble that no one really thinks about. This will then be used to specify the types of adverts you receive. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t make much sense sending haircare product adverts to a bald man now, does it? Whereas, it might be a good idea to send suggestions of razors and shaving items to a man who regularly needs these things.

PhotoMIX Company via Pexels

Sometimes without really thinking about it, it can be hard to figure out exactly where these targeted adverts came from. You could read an article about how to get your clothes sparkling white and later see pop-ups for laundry detergent. It’s also likely that you could be searching a company like Glossier and end up having adverts for a makeup brand you’ve never even heard of. This could have you confused, because you obviously haven’t looked them up. However, by being on a site that sells various other brands all under one roof, if any of them pay for targeted ads, you could be the receiver of one.

This isn’t to scare you off searching for things. Naturally we all do it, it’s the 21st century and the digital world has taken over. Iā€™m just filling you in on these things we’ve all wondered about. If anything, although it’s pretty spooky, it’s also fascinating how they can be so spot on with what they show you.

šŸ‘‚I can’t hear you

Or, can I? It has been suggested more recently that your phone is actually listening. When voice activated search became a thing, everyone thought it was great. Remember when saying “Hey Siri sing me a song” or “Ok Google, tell me a joke” was the funniest thing? People would try and out do each other with who could get the best response.

These little robots living inside your phone can listen. A lot of people believe that they’re constantly listening and this is how they know you’re looking for a weekend away, even though this has only ever been said to your friend over a coffee. The companies making these devices have always disputed the idea that they’re listening in on your conversations, but how do we really know?

When using an app for the first time, you might be asked to allow this app to access your microphone and camera. This seems completely natural to accept because otherwise you probably can’t use the app as intended. So, you click accept and think nothing more of it. What if though, this has just granted that app access to listen while you’re using it. Facebook, for example, could listen in to your conversations and then use this to market the right adverts to you. I mean, if they’re just using it to sell things to us then I guess it’s harmless, but it does seem a little odd to have your conversations monitored.

All ears gif

It’s suggested that a good way to put a stop to this if it does creep you out is to disable your voice controls. By turning off the likes of Siri, it will no longer listen in. Siri and it’s equivalent are always listening in case you happen to say “Hey Siri” to which it will react. Turning this feature off will mean that your phone isn’t constantly listening out for something.

I guess it’s a case of swings and roundabouts, phones nowadays have everything you could possibly want in one place. However, it may seem that your privacy is being invaded. It’s possible you can prevent your phone from eavesdropping on your conversations a lot of the time, but those adverts will still target you. Even searching in incognito will still provide you with ads because you click on links through other social media platforms. Maybe we should all go back to the days of letter writing, and our secrets will stay between us and whoever we choose to tell. When you think about it though, it’s quite handy that your phone knows what you want before you’ve even made up your mind.

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