The paranoia has reached an all-time high.
Now some people actually believe that their microwave ovens are spying on them — despite the fact they don’t have any listening devices or cameras. However, in the world of the “internet of things” it’s more likely that your smart devices could be used to compromise your personal Wi-Fi networks.
Your microwave or cellphone may not be spying on you directly, but your choice of make, model and price says a lot about you to a potential advertiser.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Even if someone was spying on you, they would have to listen to everything you say or do and that would take an enormous amount of time and energy to get anything of any value.
Ego aside, you just are not that important and probably not that interesting … at least not to governments and international intelligence agencies. Google and Amazon, however, use as many vectors as they possibly can to target you for Advertising and adding just one more thing to your shopping cart.
These methods can have unintended consequences. When I was about to get engaged and was searching the internet, all of a sudden websites were filled with ads for engagement rings.
How is someone supposed to keep a secret when your computer is acting like that friend that just can’t keep their mouth shut? Every time you visit a website there’s a chance that retargeting may divulge your habits and preferences, even after you’ve made a purchase and have no need for that advertising anymore.
The response to this (obviously) is that if there’s something you’re doing that you don’t want others to find out about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing that. However, that’s little consolation to people who share computers with friends or family. Target is famous for an incident when their coupons delivered to a young woman inadvertently (but accurately) divulged to her father that she was pregnant. These things actually happen.
With the addition of real-life devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home into our houses, these devices actually do function in a way that they have to listen to everything you say in order to listen for the trigger or wake words like, “OK Google.”
While it’s true that Google has stated that they don’t listen or spy on you in order to target products and services, it is possible that other companies could be contracted to process and data mine on their behalf, and that the advertising companies simply “buy the data.”
Even though advertising companies say that they don’t target us based on what we say when our smartphones are within earshot. I’ll admit that I was convinced that my smartphone was spying on me to target advertising, based on personal experience.
One morning several months ago when sleeping started to become difficult for my wife (she’s eight months pregnant), she mentioned needing some sort of body pillow to help. That afternoon, she started seeing ads on the internet for that exact product. However, she had been doing an excessive amount of searching and visiting hundreds of pregnancy-related websites. We dismissed it as coincidence.
Days after, we were talking about needing to buy dish detergent and within an hour, ads for Cascade appeared on YouTube. Neither one of us searched it, and Cascade wasn’t the brand we usually bought. Another day we were talking about pizza bread and that same day ads for Dominos appeared on YouTube. I’ve worked in advertising for many years and founded JuicyAds more than 11 years ago now and never seen such targeting accuracy in near real-time.
Looking it up on the internet, there are many people with similar stories, convinced that they are being targeted through their cellphones for advertising purposes. But, simply believing it and then seeing it happen over and over again does not make it true.
So I did what any normal human might do. I tested it. Based on what we thought we had said previously about these other products, using key words like “need” or “want.” We baited the advertisers through my smartphone. We dared Google to scrape our voice data to use voice recognition to target ads to us for items we said we needed. You probably won’t be shocked at what happened next — nothing. No targeted ads based on what we said we wanted or needed.
Creepy as all of these instances may be, there’s another possible explanation — the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. This is your brain paying attention to patterns or things that would normally be background information but are presented as relevant foreground info because of recent exposure. Like the way once you buy a new car, that you start seeing other people driving that same car more frequently.
Of if you see an advertisement on TV and then start seeing that product everywhere. Or how your girlfriend might believe you’re cheating on her and start to see evidence of it everywhere, reaffirming their suspicions.
Those are manifestations of Baader-Meinhof, and it makes things that are newly relevant seem to jump out at you. Sort of like when you’re paranoid that your smartphone is spying on you, and you start to focus on evidence supporting it.
Your microwave or cell phone may not be spying on you directly, but your choice of make, model and price says a lot about you to a potential advertiser. If you bought your last microwave online or with a credit card, you can bet that that information is stored in a database somewhere and it could potentially be used to sell you something else.