Is Your Phone Listening To You: An Experiment

Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard of stories or been in a position where we’re casually having a conversation around the next holiday destination or that new car you want. Not long after, you log on to Facebook or scroll through Instagram and wouldn’t you believe it, an ad pops up about that Thailand holiday you were talking about or that car you were dreaming about. Scary.

Now we could chalk it down to pure coincidence, but it’s happened to one too many people and I doubt friends and family (unless they’re all a bunch of liars) are making stories up.

So I set out on a long (one week) journey to find out if our phones are indeed listening to us…

The Plan

I tried to keep this as realistic as possible, so every day after work for half an hour (give or take) I picked a topic to “casually” discuss.

Here’s what happened.

Topics Discussed

Monday: Me and the wife discussed houses, areas we would buy in, new builds, mortgages, credit scores etc.

Tuesday: A long winded discussion with my brother trying to explain the new wave of ‘online’ banks such as Monzo, Starling, Revolut to our good old gen Dad.

Wednesday: After an influx of Data Engineering opportunities (shameless plug – check out our latest data engineering roles here), the word Data Engineer was probably mentioned one too many times both at work and at home.

Thursday: This one was not planned unfortunately, the wife talking about meal replacements and going on a ‘health kick’, see how long this one lasts.

Friday: Constantly talking about buying a smart car.

So, did anything happen?

No adverts for smart cars (thankfully) spammed Facebook or Instagram or any of my social media apps, well not yet anyways.

I can’t say the same for the rest, take a look at these screenshots from my Facebook, Instagram and the local news app.

A similar experiment by Sam Nichols at the Vice yielded similar results, having consulted a Senior Security Consultant for a CyberSecurity firm, this is what he concluded:

“Because unless you’re a journalist, a lawyer, or have some kind of role with sensitive information, the access of your data is only really going to advertisers. If you’re like everyone else, living a really normal life, and talking to your friends about flying to Japan, then it’s really not that different to advertisers looking at your browsing history. “It’s just an extension from what advertising used to be on television,” says Peter. Only instead of prime-time audiences, they’re now tracking web-browsing habits. It’s not ideal, but I don’t think it poses an immediate threat to most people.”

Okay, so it doesn’t ‘pose an immediate threat’ but when does it cross that line? I for one don’t like the thought of my phone and the apps on it listening to me, it begs the question: are our conversations inside the home really that private?

Have you had similar experiences? Do you think it poses a threat or is it just a part of being a smartphone owner?

KDR Recruitment is the home of the best data, technology and analytics jobs. For more tech news and view check out the KDR blog or follow KDR on LinkedIn.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. To read the original blog, click here.

Haroon Choudry

March 22nd, 2019 View my profile

You might also like: