There is an urban legend going around that claims that if you hold your phone up to your mouth and say “Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii” that you will start getting ads for holidays in Hawaii within an hour on Facebook. It’s tinfoil hat time!
There are three main reasons why I can guarantee that your social media platforms are not listening to what you are saying:
- Turning on your microphone without permission isn’t allowed by Apple or Android
- Listening to audio and transmitting it would use up a huge amount of data every day
- Storing audio from billions of phones all day, every day would take up more data storage space than current exists
While logic is not going to undo the opinion of an avowed conspiracy theorist, let’s break these down anyway.
You must give permission to an app to use your microphone
You ultimately have the power to turn on and turn off access to your microphone in the settings of your phone. iPhones will prompt you if something wants to use your microphone, camera or location beyond the use of a particular app at the time you are using it.
If you really do think your phone is listening to you, you can turn off the ability for apps to use your microphone at all. It’s in your settings. And it’s not just Apple that gives you that ability. It’s also Android. When you install an app that, at various times, needs access to location, camera or microphone, it has to ask your permission to have access to them. And just like Apple, Android phones allow you to revote that permission whenever you like.
Both systems will prompt you if there are apps that are using any phone resources like the camera, location services or a microphone when you’re not using the app. It’s then up to you if you want to restrict access to different parts of your phone hardware to not being able to use those features at all, only use them when the app is in use, or to allow them access all the time.
While there is no reason for any app to use the camera and microphone while you’re not using the app, if you’re worried about someone listening, then turn off this permission. Problem solved.
Audio needs a lot of power and data
Perhaps the most compelling reason why Facebook and other apps don’t want to listen to your conversations is because it takes a lot of power and a lot of data to do this. Even with the best compression and the biggest battery, it’s just like being on a WIFI phone call, Facebook audio call or a Messenger audio call for 24 hours straight. You just can’t do that on a phone without running your battery down in less than a couple of hours – and using Gigabytes of data. You’d be out of data and battery so quick that you’d know that something was going on.
It’s a tell-tale sign that something is wrong when you have a battery that runs out way quicker than it should. It’s either a rogue app draining your power or a process running that is using a lot of your phone’s processor time.
Frankly, Facebook, TikTok and any other app don’t use enough bandwidth or power to be doing this. If they did, both Google and Apple would kick them off their phones.
There’s not enough data storage in the world to store your conversations
Social media, search and other online platforms store the minimum amount of data about you that they possibly can. And that is usually in the form of generalised bundling of interests and behaviours such as frequent travel, whether you appear to be a business owner or if you’re someone who likes to shop online often. This data is kept as small and lean as possible because space on servers for this kind of thing is expensive, and there’s only so much space on all their servers to hold this kind of thing.
As more and more people come on to these platforms, Facebook, Google, TikTok and everyone else can’t just simply build endless data centres to store whether you’re a Coalition or Labor voter. In fact, the information about us that we’re often most sensitive about, such as what TV shows we watch, the alcohol we drink, whether we like guns, what drugs we take and whether we like to watch adult videos online, etc; none of it is of any use to these platforms, but none of these products or services are allowed to advertise on their platforms anyway.
Between your browsing habits and what you do while on Facebook and Instagram or TikTok and Pinterest or whatever you are using, there is more than enough information about you to help them to target ads at you.
You’re not as unique as you think you are.
The cold hard truth is that you are not as special, unique, or one-of-a-kind as you may think you are. When there is 7.5 billion of us on the planet and we tend to stick around the cultures we are part of, there’s not a lot of variety in the patterns that emerge about us all.
It’s easy to tell who is interested in baby items because just about all parents-to-be behave in predictable patterns and have predictable interests. It’s much the same for those who are considering getting married. Even with a multicultural society, there are patterns that we are not even aware of that we fall into when we’re engaged. No one has to spy on your conversations to know that you are heading through a certain stage of your life. And it’s not hard to guess that you are about to go to a music festival when you’ve been to it for three years in a row at this time of the year and display a predictable pattern of interest in certain bands and artists as that festival approaches.
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Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Facebook Blueprint Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Facebook Australia, a digital advisor with Treeti Business Consulting, an accredited ASBAS Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.