by Baylie Clevenger
Since the beginning of cell phones, there have been many questions about the safety of using them. Do they give people cancer? Are they causing young people to be less social? And arguably the most interesting: are they listening to us?
In July of 2016, a couple on YouTube under the channel name of Neville decided to do an experiment to see if their phones were listening to them. They had never had a cat and never discussed buying cat food or anything about a cat, previous to this experiment. They then decided to specifically discuss cat food for a while to see if Facebook would give them an ad for cat food… and a couple days later they had an ad for cat food on their Facebook.
Now, this is not a one time thing. A simple twitter search for “our phones are listening to us” returns tweet upon tweet about people experiencing similar situations.
2 hours ago at dinner I asked someone if they’ve ever been to Golf Galaxy in Troy and that I need to buy a new driver soon. Log onto Instagram to this post… Yep, our phones are listening to us. pic.twitter.com/v8Wke0LPKg
— Shane Felix (@ShaneFelix) March 27, 2018
2 weeks ago, had conversation on the phone with a friend about buying a drone. This morning a suggested post on my @facebook timeline was a site to purchase a…..drone.
Not only are they selling us, they are listening to our calls #DeleteFacebook
— Damien Sreenan (@damiensreenan) March 23, 2018
Sometimes I stop believing that our phones are really listening to us but then I talk about a TV show I had never heard of with an uber driver and BOOM an ad for same show right when I open twitter pic.twitter.com/yU0K4eNRvA
— Delaney McGowan (@delaneyforeal) March 15, 2018
Similar to Facebook, I personally experience this with Instagram ads. While this may seem different, consider that Facebook paid 1 billion dollars for Instagram in 2012.
This is also not the only time security of Facebook users’ information has come into question. Complaints about user privacy have been questioned since 2011 when Facebook received complaints from the Federal Trade Commission about the privacy of Facebook users’ information.
Last week, Facebook was under fire again for selling information to a third party analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica. They have known about this information breach since 2015 and they just recently banned the third party source.
So let’s break this down: what does selling information to this third party firm mean for Facebook users? Basically this firm took user information without their permission and used it to specifically target certain users with different political ads. The currently suspended CEO was also caught on film bragging about using this information, as well as fabricated sex scandals, to sway voters.
To catch up:
1. Facebook lost control of 50 million users’ data to Cambridge Analytica, who weaponized it in the 2016 election;
2. Facebook has been freely giving backend data to ICE without a warrant;
3. Facebook has been monitoring private calls and texts of Android users. https://t.co/U0HD5VrJWj
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) March 27, 2018
With all of this evidence that just one app is using people’s information in this way, it would not be unreasonable to think that this information is useful to them. Why wouldn’t they want more information?
Digital Trends reported that in just a single quarter, Facebook made more than 9 billion dollars from ad revenue. That is an unfathomable amount of money, why wouldn’t they want to listen to us to provide us with more ads to make more money?
It is also not outlandish to think that our phones are listening to us at all times. For example: features on iPhones like “Hey, Siri” allow users to call out “Hey Siri” to their phone rather than having to press down the home button to access Siri. Would this not mean that phones are listening at all times for users to say “Hey Siri.”
This feature was introduced by Apple in 2015, they called it “passive-listening” technology. This is basically just a fancy, watered-down way of saying your phone will be constantly listening and waiting for users to call upon them. This means that if this feature is enabled, which it is in many cases, then a user’s phone is already listening at all times.
There are similar features on android phones in which the user creates a personalized phrase to awake the siri-like digital assistant. This means that this is not limited to iPhones which have the Siri feature. Other things like the Amazon Alexa are also listening for users to call upon them. This means that there are electronic devices everywhere that are waiting and listening.
Cell phones today are more powerful than ever and capable of listening in on anything said around them. The apps we use are owned by people who make the bulk of their money from advertisements. With this all in mind, cell phone users need to consider the reality that cell phones are more intrusive than we may think.
Sources: YouTube, Twitter, Digital Trends
Images: YouTube, Twitter, Pexels
Baylie is double majoring in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. She has been with Byte since January of 2018 and has also written for other publications like The Odyssey and Affinity. Baylie has always had a passion for writing and has wanted to be a journalist since she was 13. She hopes to inspire people with her writing and contribute an informed society.