Have you ever had that strange feeling that your phone is listening to you? After a discussion about the coffee machine you are surprised to find advertisements about the trip just mentioned?
For my part, it happened a few weeks ago. In the middle of preparing for a birthday party, I was talking with a friend in a Messenger call about critical choice of alcohol. It was not without surprise that I then discovered on Facebook a targeted ad for a brand of Gin that we had quoted several times.
This is not the first time that this has happened to me and those around me, so I decided to investigate the matter.
Doubt is building up in the media
For the past few months, a cloud of articles has been landing on the web, and the question that keeps coming up is: are our smartphones spying on us?
The first one to sound the alarm was the Indé Vice newspaper with the headline, "Your phone's listening to you, it's not paranoia.”.
Australian journalist Sam Nichols said he had interviewed a digital security consultant who confirmed that our phones were listening to us.
He then conducted the experiment directly by repeating trigger phrases such as "I'm thinking about going back to college" or "I need cheap shirts for work" several times a day, and he says the result was clear: most of the Facebook ads were for college courses or affordable brands.
BFM Tv, France Culture, Huffington Post, USA Today, Consumerreports, Makeusof and so many others became interested in the rumor.
So, true paranoia or not? Opinions are divided.
Technically this seems to be possible now, but companies like Facebook, Google and others wouldn't actually need this technology to be able to target their audiences to content that they want.
In one of its articles, the news paper Quartz is defending a much more worrying reality than simply listening to our discussions. Companies such as Facebook and Google would develop avatars of us, users (thanks to the Machine LearningOur unique avatar would collect such a source of information (searches, clicks, interests, age...) since the creation of our account that it would be able to predict our conversations and our desires. At least that's what a former Google employee says.
According to consumerreports.com Researchers at Northeastern University tested more than 17,000 popular Android applications using a program and found no concrete evidence that any of them were listening.
So no assertions from the media side.
But then what do Facebook and Google say?
Facebook has firmly denied this practice in a press release issued in 2016 titled "Facebook Does not Use Your Phone's Microphone for Ads or News Feed Stories"("Facebook doesn't use your phone's microphone for announcements or news feeds") hard to be clearer Mark!
But what does his terms and conditions say?
When Facebook talks about the ads and its targeting methods, it initially refers only to "interest-based online advertising".
According to this article, there is no way to open a phone that listens to our conversations offline. What about via Messenger?
Going further in what no one ever reads but accepts Facebook says, "We collect content, the communications as well as other information you provide when using our Products".
He goes on to say "Our systems automatically process the content and the communications that you and others provideto analyze the context and what they contain for the purposes described. belowAnd these purposes are no surprise "[...] to send you commercial communications, to tell you about our products and to inform you of our terms and regulations.
Nothing therefore prohibits, according to the information found, to target from a phone conversation via Messenger.
What about Google?
Benchmarking Belgian media VTR but also France Inter, L'Echo and many others support that Google employees have access to our audio data from Google home or Android smartphones to enhance artificial intelligence.
And Google actually doesn't hide from it in its General terms and conditions.
Among other things, we can find:
"We collect information about your activity within our services, for example, to recommend a YouTube video that may be of interest to you. The information we collect about your activity may include the following: [...] Audio and voice information when you use audio features.
Google then goes on to explain that it uses (among other things) the data "Depending on your settings, we may also present you with personalised ads selected on the basis of your interests."
Nothing is therefore against the use of discussions recorded in your living room by your Google Home assistant for advertising purposes.
What's better than taking the test on our own?
As we don't have a Google Home, we couldn't do the test with this product, but we were still able to perform a series of tests to challenge these taps.
In order to avoid any interference, we made sure to choose products or services that we have not been looking for in the last few months and to which we do not have the memory of having had targeted advertising.
We started with tests during discussions with the phone put down and locked. The discussion was about buying a camera by quoting different major brands. After 3 days of testing, no ads appeared on social networks or Google partner sites.
While gaining in perseverance, we then discussed changing our phone plan by quoting all the big names in telephony with Facebook open. And there!... Not always any result... Same with Google open and with Messenger discussions. It was then a mix of disappointment and relief that sent us.
But just as you never find what you're looking for, the surprise was unwittingly total. During a car trip, Marie, your SEO specialist, said out loud "I'm out of gas, I need to fill up," and instantly a pop-up window appeared on the Waze application with the message "Need gas? Here are the stations around you. Is this a coincidence? Does Waze, which belongs to Google, have another system for knowing that you need gas? Hard to know.
A few weeks later, one of my friends was discussing the book "Père Riche Père Pauvre" at a meeting and here is the announcement he got the next day:
So, is your phone listening to you? It is always difficult to know if this is a coincidence or not but the question deserves to be asked more than ever. I invite you to share your experiences with us in Comment if you have had examples or you have felt listened to by your phone!