Let’s Bust The Myth That Your Phone Is Secretly Spying On You

The rumor has been swirling for years and seems plausible on the surface. Let’s Bust The Myth That Your Phone Is Secretly Spying On You Giphy

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We’ve all been there: You’re having a discussion about a particular item and the next time you scroll through social media there’s an ad for that very thing.

So does it mean that your device is listening in on your conversation? We’ll get to the bottom of it, starting with a rumor that’s been circulating for years.

A myth takes root

As far back as 2016, posts on Facebook and even some mainstream media reports have claimed that the social media app had been collecting personal information collected through the always-on microphones of users’ smartphones.

And it’s easy to understand why so many people fell for it. It was around that time that Facebook had optimized its targeted advertising program, allowing for more relevant ads than ever before. So in many cases, it seemed as if Facebook knew what you wanted even better than you did — and that was the point.

The truth of the matter

Eight years later, people are still convinced that their phones are listening … but even those who helped spread the myth in the first place have since distanced themselves from such claims.

Kelli Burns, a communications professor quoted in early articles, has since clarified her assertion.

“Watching, not listening,” she said. “Never said listening. And by watching I mean tracking.”

And tracking is indeed the operative word. Facebook and other profitable tech companies have optimized their ability to analyze a wide range of data points so they can sell more ads for a higher price.

Sometimes those eerily accurate ads are triggered by Google searches you don’t even remember making. But while your phone is technically listening (as you realize if you use voice activation for your digital assistant), it’s not recording or otherwise using that information to serve you ads.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee February 7th, 2024
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