I often hear that someone feels that the mobile phone is eavesdropping on your conversation. I have just discussed a certain thing or item, but I see this type of advertisement accurately placed in my eyes. Admittedly, online advertising has a way of promoting items and services that share the same conversations and thoughts as you, but what everyone should be wondering more about is whether your phone is actually spying on your conversations all the time.
Is your phone listening to you? Does the accuracy of advertising make you feel horrified?
Your phone isn’t eavesdropping on you, but it’s worse than that
No, in fact, your phone will not eavesdrop and record your conversations and upload them to a remote server for analysis to generate advertisements back to your phone. While some ads are so precisely creepy that it’s hard to believe, nonetheless these ads aren’t spying on your conversations, at least some of them will be voice conversations.
Now, technically, virtual guards including the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant do record audio clips when you use the wake keyword, and at least some of the time upload those clips for experts to refine the voice assistant’s responses. Sometimes background dialogue is recorded in these clips as well, so in a way, part of your dialogue may be heard by someone somewhere. But these recordings are not what make the ad precise. The truth about cellphone surveillance is actually far scarier.
Advertisers don’t have to eavesdrop
It’s easy for advertisers to guess exactly what you’re saying or hearing without making any recordings. They can take current trends and match them with basic information about you, including demographics, location, search history, shopping habits, daily life, etc., and then determine what you and your circle are interested in. The content you are interested in usually also often appears in your daily conversations and discussions.
For example, suppose you meet up with a friend at a coffee shop. Before you leave, your friend suddenly wants to check the price of frozen muffins on the e-commerce platform. The friend may inadvertently say, “I really want to eat these recently. A delicious pancake.” They might just pass it along, but the next time you browse the web, you’ll see an ad for frozen muffins.
Did your phone analyze the conversation and sell it to the grocer? No, Google just grabs a few simple pieces of data and then pairs them together. Geolocation data gleaned from your phones indicates that you’re spending some time together, and map that to frozen muffins from your friend’s browsing history. No recordings are needed to show you what’s relevant, just standard stat tracking and some logical guesswork, and the fact that frozen muffins show up in the conversation is a no-brainer.
It’s impractical to record conversations
It’s that simple and effective at the same time promoting ads that align with what you’re thinking and talking about. In fact, ad agencies can do more than just eavesdrop on your conversations.
Yes, software on your phone could technically record audio and upload it to a remote location at the same time, but all of these tasks put a huge strain on your phone’s resources, draining battery power and sending data usage skyrocketing, you absolutely must Impossible not to notice it. Some advanced spyware may do this, but the difficulty and cost involved is obviously meaningless for ordinary people.
The other problem is a simple and obvious thing, compared to data points such as search history, geolocation history, etc., the recording file with good sound quality is quite huge. Imagine transmitting, storing and processing audio from every smartphone microphone at the same time 24/7 How many resources should be invested? So this is absolutely not feasible, not even Google.
Your conversations aren’t as valuable as you think
Ok! Suppose that big tech companies with vast resources really hide a huge underground laboratory, where everyone’s real conversations are stored and analyzed for ad targeting. The problem is that this whole thing is a huge waste of time and energy, and at the end of the day, at least for advertisers, your chats with family and friends aren’t even worth listening to.
No matter what you’re saying right now, the ad server probably already knows that you and your friends are interested. Your recent fads and new interests are old news to a company like Google. For example, you really liked that movie you saw last week and shared it with your co-workers, but Google may have guessed that you would watch it before you decided, and may already know that you liked it and interacted with others to talk about it.
What’s more, people hide, lie and mislead their interests all the time in conversations, and sometimes you pretend to be interested in your friend’s preferences out of politeness. These are all low-quality and inaccurate data. If there is such a secret eavesdropping laboratory, it will have to close down soon. But do you know what doesn’t lie? your browsing history.
How do you stop ads that are precisely scary?
Turning off your phone’s microphone isn’t actually going to buy you any real dick, so what can you do to stop these suspiciously relevant ads from appearing? The bad news is, there’s not much you can do.
Privacy on the Internet is a myth. Your smartphone is like a tiny sponge, soaking up every item of valuable data it can, and anyone who asks for it usually gets it. You can minimize the amount of data collected and shared by adjusting your Google Account’s privacy settings or by switching to an alternative privacy-focused service (such as DuckDuckGo for search or Signal for messaging). Using a VPN combined with an anonymous browsing mode will also make it harder for advertisers to track your browsing activity.
However, there is no real workaround. Your usage itself can be identified, cataloged, and tracked while browsing, weakening many privacy tools, even disabling GPS tracking won’t help, as nearby Bluetooth, WiFi signals, and other data points make geolocation tracking difficult to stop.
So instead of worrying about being tapped by a recording, just remember one thing: don’t do everything on your phone.