Is Your Phone Listening to Your Conversations?

July 13, 2020

phone listening to conversations

How many times has this happened to you? In conversation, you mention the hottest new shoes, a movie you want to see, or an obscure camping supply you just discovered. Within minutes, that very thing pops up in the sidebar of an entirely unrelated website. Your immediate assumption might be that your phone is listening to you and studying your speech for products to sell you! But, the answer is a little more complicated and much more interesting.

Are You SURE It Isn’t Listening?

At present, it’s certainly possible to have your phone listened to—some might say it’s even easy! Law enforcement agencies can use wiretaps and the like with a simple warrant. The data collection apparatus at their disposal is vast. Luckily for you, however, advertising with these methods is prohibited under privacy protection laws, like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (1986) or Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (1986).

Algorithmic Prediction and Data Collection

The war for consumer information is on, and while your phone may not be monitoring your conversations, it’s monitoring just about everything else! It knows where you go thanks to longitude-latitude data transmitted to the websites and apps you use thanks to cookies and other pieces of code. The truth is, if you aren’t working diligently against it, then your privacy is a thing of the past. 

It’s this wealth of collected data—and not eavesdropped conversation—that your phone uses to serve those prescient ads. The engineers at Google know your interests with such accuracy that they can serve you those ads that catch you off guard before you even realize you were interested in that product. That’s because your behavior indicates you’re the type of person who would like that product. Though it might seem like the realms of science fiction, these abilities can actually benefit consumers and advertisers. Users benefit from getting helpful, applicable ads (like seeing suitcases after searching for flights). Advertisers benefit by only showing valuable impressions to the users most likely to turn into customers.

The reality is: when you see this type of ad, and your first thought is, “oh my gosh, are they listening?”, it’s an example of well-targeted marketing. The cognitive biases of consumers lead us to see products or advertisements for products. We just don’t really notice until we have a want or need for them. After talking to your friend on the phone and them explaining why you need product X, you see another ad. It has a much larger impact now than before. 

Why Isn’t My Phone Listening To Conversations?

Many people assume that these ads popping up when you discuss that product must mean your phone is spying on you. However, there’s one major reason that it isn’t: data. Audio files are big, and voice recognition software is far from perfect. Think about it. Even when Siri’s programming responds to your voice, she often gets confused. It’s simply unrealistic for your phone to process full conversations, pick out product keywords, and then process those into ads. A few different studies test this theory to be sure. And sure enough, the microphone isn’t activated by specific keywords! 

Smart Home Services And The Right to Privacy

There is one exception to this rule: any and all smart home devices. These products constantly record—until you tell them not to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they use these recordings to serve you ads. Officially, Google Home and Amazon Fire say they record you to recognize your voice and speech patterns to improve their ability to respond. The good news is that this feature can be disabled, just in case you don’t trust Alexa. Abuses of data harvesting are few and far between and relatively small in scope. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing untoward is happening. Without careful legislation and informed consumers, these only stand to get worse going forward.

Harness The Power Of Digital Marketing in Baton Rouge 

Whether or not Siri is eavesdropping, you’ve got a friendly neighborhood ad agency in Gatorworks. Start your process with us today! To begin, either give us a call at 225.924.6109 or contact us online. 

We’re Listening