Apps are listening to you. But not in the way you might think.

Have you ever thought about something, and after a while, even without googling the brand or anything of the sort, ads start popping up for the thing you just thought about? Is it something that’s just one of those weird things that happen to us, or is there something more sinister going on?


We’ve done some research and, contrary to what you might have thought, social media apps are not listening. That has been debunked again and again so, if you were mightily sure that your phone was eavesdropping, apologies for bursting your bubble.


You were right, however, in thinking that Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and all the other social media apps collect data about you. In fact, they do it all the time. They know your demographic, your location, your device ID which is unique to your phone – they know all this, and they’ve got it because you let them, not because they’re listening in on your conversations.


In the tech sector, data aggregators pay to get data from almost everywhere. Have you ever used a discount card at your local supermarket? Or paid for a ­ħobża with your Revolut? There’s a spreadsheet behind that purchase, containing data about you, behind every single sale. And if data is being collected, it is being stored and you can be sure that it is being sold to advertisers.


They can match your ASOS purchases with your Facebook account because you gave both these separate companies your phone number and email address when you agreed to their terms of service and their privacy policy. You know, the one that everybody scrolls to the very bottom and nobody bothers to read?


So far, this may not be news to you, but there’s more. Our phones are regularly pinging their GPS location, and rest assured that that’s being taken note of. In fact, whenever your phone is regularly pinging from the same location as that of another phone, data aggregators begin to construct a web of people who are in regular physical contact with one another.


Slowly, advertisers can then begin to cross-reference data with people whose phone is pinging from the same location. That’s your likes, your browser history and your purchase history. It will serve you ads not just about your own interests, but also the interests of the people around you – your family, friends, coworkers. You might be seeing ads for things you don’t particularly like to see, but which advertisers know might interest the people around you.


And another thing. The data that organizations have on you is not locked safely away, only for you to see. This is all out in the open. Tonnes of people have reported on this. It’s just that … nobody seems to care?


“The seduction of these consumer products is so powerful that it blinds us to the possibility that there is another way to get the benefits of the technology without the invasion of privacy. But there is.” - William Staples, founding director of the Surveillance Studies Research Center at the University of Kansas


By letting these organizations collect all this information, we are actively allowing them not only to get to know private information which we might not be willing to share even with our loved ones, but we’re also letting them shape our behaviour unconsciously.


These organisations know they’re sitting on a gold mine. Facebook, whose ads are its main source of revenue, have just filed a lawsuit against Apple, whose latest iOS update allows users to block apps from tracking behaviour. Imagine that – Apple, fighting the good fight…


If you care about your privacy, do use an adblocker. Do read privacy settings. Do minimize the data you give to these apps. Advertisers want you to press accept and proceed without caring. That would not just be at your own expense but at the expense of the privacy and free will of those around you. Do not give them the satisfaction.


Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/opinion/location-data-national-security.html

https://www.vox.com/recode/22254815/facebook-apple-privacy-ios-14-lawsuit

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/19/opinion/location-tracking-cell-phone.html