I am sure it’s nothing. Really…

by | Nov 13, 2018 | Tech

Reading time: 3 minutes

Our minds like to search for patterns where there are none. Twenty times you look at your phone and on the twenty first it rings and you go on a tour of precognition self assessment. It’s how we are wired, so I am sure it’s nothing.

But the other day, my friend and colleague The Tech Guy, was talking to his girlfriend about how to clean the A/C ducts. Surprising, I know, but tech people also find mating partners. Well, that’s another story.
Anyway, they mentioned trying with a particular brand of a particular, and powerful, vacuum cleaner. And that was that.

However, about 6 hours later he went into the app of one, extremely popular, online shopping site to find, lo and behold, the mentioned vacuum from the mentioned brand as the “deal of the day”. To be clear, and while on the presence of mobile phones, the conversation with the girlfriend happened the traditional way, with voice and actual sound reaching ears, in person and with the air as the only medium.

He texted me over an encrypted, and also popular, messaging app about it. One that, so far, has not been exposed in any sort of data hacking scandal. We decided to move the conversation, mentioning the brands, to another popular app. Now, this second app, may or may not belong to a company that may or may not have been involved in some data hacking issues.

After about 45 minutes, I opened the very same online shopping app and the deal of the day had moved from some sort of suitcase arrangements to the very same vacuum cleaner.

Shocking.

The next day he went on to talk, over messages, about a bank application that did this and that. Like clockwork, a couple of hours later, another bank app showed up as a video ad in one extremely popular online video streaming service. Immediately he messaged me about it, mentioning a few brands and bank names, to see if I would get the same ad.

It took 25min and 4 videos to see the same ad, of a bank I have never dealt with. There it was, tight 5 minutes of Seinfeld sponsored by a bank app.

Now, this is not a double blind study with clear questions, procedures, checklists and data logging sheets so I would not dare to venture any sort of conspiracy. Again, we tend to find patterns on events that are around us, and given that we are both the same gender, of similar income levels and living in the same region of the planet, it very well may be that we are profiled as potential customers of those two very same products when it happened that they were having an ad campaign.

Thus, we both took it as something to start looking into. Something to be more aware of. Take notice of the ads we see and whether they may be related to the conversations we have in the presence of a phone. But, with the blatant theft of data, the endless sales of phone number databases, the barrage of SMS we receive each day, mostly from outfits we’ve never heard of it’s something to consider.

Do I think our phones are listening to us? Yes. Do I think there are companies analyzing what you say at all times of the day? No. Or at least, not yet. But keep in mind that the phone has apps, and that those apps require permissions. And more often than not, we just say yes without considering why would the silly game of the day would need our GPS, camera and microphone access.

As I said, something to consider…