Your phone isn’t really spying on your conversations—the truth might be even creepier

2 min
Tags: Phone spying conversations Google ads

If you have a smartphone, you have had this unnerving  experience at some point: After having a face-to-face conversation with a  friend or a partner in a private setting, you pick up your phone and  see ads on social media that echo the details of your chat to an uncanny  degree—ads for picnic baskets after a discussion of weekend barbecue  plans, or a sale on flights to a place you just mentioned wanting to  visit.

The less tech-savvy (or more  conspiracy-minded) among us might worry that an app or the phone itself  is somehow recording our conversations. This is not true—though if  you’re still not convinced you can change the settings on your phone to reduce the amount of data apps can collect.

Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist whose “Time Well Spent” movement aims to reclaim time and attention from digital devices, explained  what’s actually going on with those spot-on ads at a recent panel at the  Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. No secret recording  is involved, but his description still offers eye-opening perspective on  the amount of data advertisers have at their disposal:
I know for a fact, the data forensics  show, and the Facebook VP of advertising says, promises, that they do  not listen to the microphone. How is it they’re still able to know the  conversation you had?

It’s because inside of a Google server or a  Facebook server is a little voodoo doll, avatar-like version of you.  Like a model of you. And I don’t have to listen to your conversations  because I’ve accumulated all the …clicks and likes you’ve ever made, and  it makes this voodoo doll act more and more like you. All I have to do  is simulate what conversation the voodoo doll is having, and I know the  conversation you just had without having to listen to the microphone.

So no, tech companies aren’t secretly listening to your IRL  conversations. They know you so well that they don’t need to. You can  watch the whole discussion here.