Are Your Apps Listening To You?

All of us have received ads for things we have not searched for but have talked about with our friends, family and co-workers. These type of ads may include the shoe brand of a co-worker, a destination someone from your family just go back or even a new fancy wireless BBQ temperature gauge your best friend told you about over the phone. It just feels odd when this happens. The first reaction most people have in these situations, is to think that their social media or other app is listening in on conversations. This is however not the case.

We all know that apps collect a myriad of personal data from the phone: unique device ID, location, demographics and many more. The online purchases are stored by the e-commerce site along with my personal data and shared with data aggregators but also with Google, Facebook and other advertisers, often unknowingly by users through Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel. The advertisers can now match the purchases with for example the Twitter or LinkedIn account of that person, because those accounts are discoverable by phone number. On top of that, as we know, the phone and the apps tracks the exact GPS location of all users. Where it gets really insane, is that now these companies can detect if people are in the same location and thus reconstruct with whom they are in regular contact. Therefore, the advertising companies start to show ads based on interests and purchasing history of people around other people. This can be family, co-workers and friends. It will serve ads about things people don’t want themselves, but the targeted person might subconsciously start a conversation about items that another person is interested in. Insane.

The privacy advocate Robert G. Reeve posted a very helpful  thread on Twitter that explains how this happens in details and claims that “tons of people report on this. It’s just nobody cares. We’ve already given away too much from ourselves”.

At PAN we believe that users have a choice. There are ways to minimise your digital footprint while taking advantage of e-commerce and other digital services. Learn more about PAN here