Is your phone listening to you?

By Miranda Mowrey, Columnist

Picture the following scenario: On the dreaded daily trek to your 8 a.m. lecture, your friend mentions her newest purchase and notions towards her feet, claiming that this brand of boots will be worn by everyone in a matter of weeks. Swallowing your inner thoughts about her poor fashion choice, you politely compliment the boots and steer the conversation elsewhere. Later that day, as you scroll through your Instagram feed, mindlessly liking the pictures illuminating from your phone screen, something catches your eye. It is an advertisement for your friend’s new shoes. An unwanted thought keeps circulating in your mind: is my phone listening to me?  

If you have had a similar experience, this lack of privacy has left you feeling bothered and taken advantage of by online companies. Although I was scared of what I would discover, I decided to dive deeper into the world of targeted advertisements to uncover the truth about what the internet really knows about us.

According to Global News, there are no actual regulations in place that prevent your phone from tuning into your conversations. It turns out, once you enable an app to use any function that requires audio, your device’s microphone could be on and listening to your daily conversations with your friend about her unfortunate new boots. 

In 2016, Facebook denied allegations regarding unwanted audio listening despite the ongoing skepticism from its 2.4 billion users. Admittedly, it would take up an absurd amount of data if everyone’s devices were constantly recording their day-to-day conversations. However, audio listening does not always refer to listening to dialogue. It can take the form of analyzing the sounds surrounding your device, like season 3 of Stranger Things playing from your TV or the bustle of traffic on your morning commute to work.

Apart from audio listening, there are entities called ‘data brokers’ that make money selling your personal information to companies, like Facebook, looking to appeal to the consumer. The information sold to other companies could include your relationship status, your income, or even the square footage of your house. All of the data collected by data brokers is attained simply by analyzing your online presence.

Although political action must be taken to remedy this breach in privacy, you can make a few minor adjustments to limit the amount of information these companies know about you. Start by disabling microphone access on Facebook, Instagram, and other applications. Make sure to frequently clear your search history and cookies, too. It is beneficial in some circumstances to encounter advertisements targeted to your specific needs and personal life. However, as social media and the internet continue to become a dominant part of modern culture, it is important to also emphasize the privacy of the consumer.

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