Australian woman claims to have proof that Facebook is listening to your conversation
Over the past few decades, technology has progressed in ways that most of us would probably never have believed was possible. We can now access the internet from basically anywhere on the planet, communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the globe, and settle intense debates with just a simple Google search.
In more recent years, we've also developed voice recognition technology for robotic helpers such as Siri and Alexa. With just a simple voice command, your phone/laptop/worryingly intelligent "home assistant" can tell you the weather, skip a song on your playlist, or remind you to buy milk.
But what is this listening technology doing for the rest of the time it's left idle? Does it just sit there, waiting to be summoned with a quick "Hey Siri", or is it always in the background, silently eavesdropping without anyone knowing?
Many people have claimed for a while that it's the latter - and now one woman says she has proof.
Adelaide Bracey, a 23-year-old woman from Sydney, Australia, recently spoke to The Australian about some worrying patterns she'd been noticing with her Facebook account.
Most recently, she reported having a conversation with her friend about saunas - only to have advertisements for saunas pop up on her Facebook feed shortly afterwards. She hadn't typed the term into any search engines, and couldn't think of a reason why she'd be targeted for the ads. The only explanation, she concluded, was that Facebook had been listening to her.
"I didn't Google it — and then it comes up as an ad on my Facebook. It's really creepy," she said. "I type something in once or search for something and it follows me for the next few days, and sometimes it comes up even when you haven't Googled it, but if I've spoken about it with a friend."
Bracey said she also frequently gets advertisements for children's schools, even though she is not a parent. She does, however, have a children's party business, and believes that speaking about it could prompt Facebook to give her target ads if it was, in fact, listening to her.
Back in 2016, following a spate of similar claims, Facebook released a statement denying that it listens to people's conversations.
"Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed," they said. "Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about."
Still, even this is considered too invasive by many official bodies. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has recently proposed changes to the Privacy Act, in order to allow greater control over how Google and Facebook can track and use internet data.
"The data collected from consumers using (Google and Facebook) extends significantly beyond the data that users actively provide when using the digital platform services," said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.
So, while Facebook flatly denies listening in on people's chatter, it is pretty clear that they are using our data in ways we might not be fully aware of.
Have they completely explained how certain targeted ads appear on our social media feeds? Maybe - but I'm still going to be careful about what I say around my phone in future...