Armed Defense

Is Your Phone Listening To You?

This content provided by EIC of Gun News Daily, Chris Browning 43 DEGREES NORTH

You are not alone if you think your phone is listening to you.

This is a feeling that many have, and it’s not without reason. Lots of smartphone users have reported that even when they are not using their phone but are talking about a subject with a friend or family member, they then get online ads for these topics or products that they have never searched for. (Read Carrie’s Blog Post here about how this happened to her)

What do experts on the subject have to say? Well, they say it’s possible. However, something to remember is that data collection and algorithms are so complex already, would these companies even gain more from listening to you? And is it even possible for advertisers to collect this audio and act on it?

These are just a couple of arguments that people who argue that phones are not listening to our everyday conversations bring up.  Let’s go over some additional arguments that are commonly brought up, and then later, we’ll talk about what to make about all of it:

It Would Be Just Too Much

First of all, it’s important to note that if a company decided to collect a constant stream of audio from your phone, it would be incredibly expensive to house, process, and act on.

At this point, the returns from advertising related to audio collection and processing would be outweighed by the cost to analyze and act on the data. And when you consider that advertisers already collect so much data on you, you have to ask if this additional data would even provide them any advantage at all.

The algorithms and processes they use already can predict what you might want to buywith uncanny accuracy. This leads us to the next point that is commonly brought up…

Advertisers Already Know Everything About You

The reasons why some perceive their phones to be listening to them is that the systems and algorithms that advertisers use to collect and process data work very very well.

It’s also a fact that no matter what you do on the web that you’re probably being targeted, which is why taking action to secure your dataand protect yourself against cybercriminals is a necessity in today’s world.

You have to ask yourself some hard questions when it comes to thinking that advertisers are showing you things based on your conversations. Because there are some ways that these ads show up that is perfectly explainable, even if it feels like advertisers were listening.

For example, if you were talking to a friend about a product, maybe your friend had been searching for the product even if you haven’t. Advertisers have been known to cross-promote products to friends and family of people who have already shown interested.

So why were you talking about the product in the first place? Was it because your friend saw it online or purchased it? Was it an online search that a family member made?

Our Brains (Sometimes) Trick Us

The phenomenon is often accredited to what’s called the Baader-Meinhof principal. This is often also referred to as the frequency illusion or recency illusion. If you have ever bought a new car, you may have experienced noticing more of that particular car on the road.

Now, did everyone decide to buy the same model of car at once? No, but your brain is more attuned to that particular collection of shapes and significance. In other words, your subconscious is keeping an eye out for this item or ad because your brain detects some interest in the subject stored somewhere within you.

Adding to this effect is a psychological term called confirmation bias. This means that if you already think you are being spied on, every time you see another ad related to a subject you were talking about you just take it as more proof that the spying is happening, thus further concreting your belief that advertisers are serving you ads based on your personal conversations.

That being said, if you’re still convinced that your phone is listening to you and want to take the extra precautions, there are a number of security steps you can take. For example, you can keep your phone turned off and away from you when you don’t want it to listen to you, and use a virtual private network, which will allow you to remotely and securely share data through private networks.

Big Tech Companies Say No

When asked at various points, both Google and Facebook have denied using your smartphone’s mic to spy on you and collect data…at least so they say.

When Google was asked about this subject, they flatly denied using microphones to collect any information for ads. The social media giant Facebook has at times refused to respond to the inquiry, which some count as highly suspicious, to say the least.

However, Facebook finally came out and said that they only show ads to people based on their data gained from their activity on the platform such as what they like, or what they have available on their profile, but again, many people view this with strong suspicion.

On the other hand, there have been instances where devices have been spying on people, and government agencies are ready to fine those who they find are producing devices or software that is recording you. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TV Maker Visio $2.2 millionfor collecting audio data from 11 million TV’s without consumers permission.

That’s also not to mention the ability of the Federal government to track you via your phone as well. For instance, as resistant as the government has been to admit to the practice, in April 2018 in a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed it detectedphone spying devices in Washington D.C.

Final Thoughts

So, is your phone listening to you?

Honestly, we don’t know definitively (or perhaps more appropriately, officially) one way or the other.  But there’s no denying that it can be creepy to say, have a conversation with someone about writing a book and then see advertisements for ghostwriting services on your phone, right?

So even though collecting all that data may be enormously expensive, advertisers already know everything about you, big tech companies say ‘no,’ and our brains trick us with principles such as the Baader-Meinhof principle, it still seems very naive at the very least to argue that our phones are not listening to us at all.

Given that there may be several logical reasons to think that your phone isn’t listening to you as we covered above, and even if many people don’t really seem to care whether their phones are listening to them or not, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful about what you say around your phone.

And while you can certainly take steps on your phone’s settings to protect your privacy, shutting off your phone and keeping it away from you when you’re talking about anything you don’t want it to hear may be the safer route.

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