I first noticed it about a year ago, though it could have been going on for longer, and probably was.
Recently I was talking to my daughter about shopping at Meijer and Wal-Mart. Meijer is quite a bit further so I choose not to go there and shop at Wal-Mart instead, despite some frustrations of shopping at Wal-Mart. Soon after, I noticed ads for Meijer popping up on social media.
On another occasion, we were talking about shopping again, and I mentioned that JCPenney was also far away and I have not been there in a very long time. Sure enough, sometime soon after that, I noticed an ad for JCPenney. (I am not a huge shopper, though these two examples may make it appear so).
Furthermore, a few months ago, I was talking about making a trip and comparing flight prices. Shortly thereafter, I began seeing ads for a couple of different airline companies.
Is this some sort of bizarre coincidence? Hardly.
Is this telepathic marketing genius on the part of these companies?
Well, some might argue it is. : )
Because these were ads regarding things I had been TALKING about, not searching online, the ONLY way for this ad to show up was if my PHONE had heard it.
Indeed, I recently learned, my phone is listening to me, and yours may be listening to you, too.
I had been noticing specific ads popping up on Twitter, but others have reported similar situations with ads on Facebook and Reddit.
It is not just the phone, however.
I happen to have an “Echo” (an Amazon device) in my house. When this device was brought home over a year ago (I didn’t buy it), and I learned it worked by voice activation, I did say it was probably listening to us when we probably did not want it listening to us.
As it turns out, this was indeed the case.
Now, Alexa is supposed to turn on when it hears its name. But how will it know unless it is also listening for its name? In the middle of any random conversation, Alexa would suddenly turn itself on, thinking someone had said its name. And it continues even to this day; it will randomly start up if it *thinks* it hears its name. Freaky, huh?
Not too long ago, you may have seen the news report that this Amazon device recorded an entire private conversation and sent it to someone.
That’s a bit scary. Would you want your emails sent out accidentally?
But think about this a bit more. Who wants to listen to others’ conversations? Let me put it this way: which businesses, or shall we say, agencies, make it their job to
eavesdrop listen? Who, historically speaking, has a vested interest in hearing what others might be saying? Hello world, Big Brother is watching AND listening AND recording AND… what’s next?
The thing is, while the device is on, it has to somehow be listening for its name. The question is how much of our private conversations are being recorded? How much is it listening?
I don’t know about you, but with the phone, and with Alexa, and with Google listening, and knowing what I search and knowing more things about me than it should, I’m concerned. I don’t want my phone listening to me, nor any other device. I find it disconcerting to see ads about what I am talking about in my own house.
Just today, I was talking with my daughter about aloe vera and essential oils, and what might be a good treatment for a burn (she had a small burn on her arm), and on Twitter, I saw an ad for a medicated skin cream! I mean, seriously. Get a life, phone, Twitter, and all of social media! You have better things to do than listen to my boring life and then suggest what YOU think I need to see. It’s really annoying – and invasive.
When making phone calls to companies, I often hear the message “this call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes” or “education purposes” or something similar. In this case, I am getting a HEADS UP about the possibility of being recorded.
But with my devices, I am NOT getting a heads up. Are they listening to everything? Certain conversations? Picking out key words and then listening in like a dog perking up its ears when it hears something interesting? Is it reading my emails? (I bet Google is). I know Google tracks online searches. What else do I not know about, that I should? I want a HEADS UP of what it is listening to and storing. Talk about a digital fingerprint; our entire public lives are already searchable, but our private lives are at risk of exposure without our knowledge or consent.
Do you like this? Does this bother you?
What will it mean to be a “private citizen” if this sort of thing keeps up? What will it mean if “in the name of public safety and interest”, this practice continues and it becomes a matter of normalcy? Right now, it feels like an invasion of privacy. Will it be simply a normal occurrence in about 30 years?
Recently, a company actually hacked its way into Alexa to record every single thing it was hearing. This company is in the business of developing security tools for software, and they proved it could be done with Alexa.
I suppose we should hope that Amazon is fixing these vulnerabilities?
There is a way to erase some of this, though. Here is how to listen to and delete the files that Google is listening to: https://clark.com/technology/google-recording-you-delete-files/
Here is how to listen to and delete all of the information Alexa has recorded: https://clark.com/technology/delete-amazon-echo-alexa-recordings/
It is becoming increasingly difficult, it seems, to be “disconnected” in a technological sense in a world that seeks to dig its tekkie talons deep into our minds and lives. That is a scary thought to me. I hope we can maintain some healthy boundaries and keep technology in its proper place.
UPDATE: After I posted this article, guess what ad popped up on Twitter? You won’t believe it: an ad about Google cloud and its security. I am not joking. GAH!! Is it time to move to Mongolia??