“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22. He could very easily have been writing about the internet. We all have stories about an innocuous conversation with a stranger on the subway about buying a new duvet only to have every single Facebook ad become tiny targeted commercials pitching the greatest duvet on the internet. While Facebook adamantly denies listening to people’s conversations, that doesn’t mean they can’t hear what you’re saying through more non-deliberate passive ways. Reply All, the tech podcast, tried to get to the bottom of it and determined that Facebook doesn’t need to eavesdrop on your conversations because they already know everything about you, including where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and who you were doing it with. Now, a Vice reporter decided to give it a whirl.
He ran an experiment where twice a day for five days, he spit out a bunch of phrases that might trigger ads, things like cheap work shirts, phone data plans, and going back to college. The changes to the ads in his Facebook newsfeed showed up “literally overnight” with ads for shirts, data, and college courses. The experiment was “eye-opening and utterly terrifying“ and it was easy to conclude that “yes, our phones are listening to us and anything we say around our phones could potentially be used against us.” Read more here, before you revert to a flip phone.