Are our smartphones listening to us in order to recommend pet products?

Are our smartphones listening to us in order to recommend pet products? Or any products, for that matter. The answer may surprise you.

(photo courtesy of Snopes)
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According to a May 2016 post by Independent.co.uk, Facebook has admitted their app does listen in “but only as a way of seeing what people are listening to or watching and suggesting that they post about it.” In other words, Facebook says this is a service to help the people who visit their site post faster.

Facebook did a complete turnaround in June during an interview with The Independent stating

“Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses can serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection.”

University of Florida mass communications director Kelli Burns did a test to prove that our smartphones are paying attention. She did this by discussing certain topics with the phone nearby and found that the site appeared to show relevant ads shortly after.

I’ve experienced this creepy target advertising firsthand over the past year. I mention a brand of cat food or a cat toy or which brand of Almond milk I like and within days it appears in my Facebook feed.

Keep in mind these are not items that I’ve Googled to learn more about. They’re items my daughter and I have talked about either at the supermarket or in the comfort of our own home.

It’s advisable to turn off permissions if you don’t enjoy being spied on via your smartphone.  On an iPhone simply head to the Settings app, then go to Privacy followed by Microphone, where you can revoke Facebook’s access to the mic. Similarly, on Android you can head to Settings, then Privacy and change the permissions the Facebook app is given so that it can’t access microphone data.

I hate to break it to all of you, but if you have the Google app installed on your smartphone, they usually have permission to listen in to your conversations in much the same way as Facebook. It’s part of the agreement you have to click on in order to install the Google app.

Have any of you had found targeted advertising based on conversations you thought were private? Do you find it a good way to find bargains, or do you consider it as creepy as I do?

Just for the record, Snopes.com stated in January 2017 that Facebook doesn’t employee paid operators to spy on Facebook accounts. I still find it eerie to talk about a Bergan Turbo Scratcher on Monday and have it show up in my Facebook feed on Wednesday.

What’s just as strange is my daughter has it happen more than I do. I don’t use the Facebook app. I go straight to Google and get on FB from there. My daughter only has the Facebook app open when she wants to use it. Somehow, from somewhere, something is listening in.

Elisa

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