You just had a conversation with a friend about a new pair of jeans that you wanted to buy and on the other day you encounter advertisement from Levis and GAP about their brand new jean collection on your Facebook homepage.
Have you ever wondered why some advertisement showing up on Facebook are matching with your (oral) conversations? There is no coincidence, no hazard, some apps are listening to you threw the microphone of your cellphone.
In order for your cellphone to listen and to record your conversation, it basically must be triggered by an “OK Google” or a “Hey Siri”. In the first place there isn’t anything to worry about. But users need to be aware that any app installed on their phone also have access to these data.
Furthermore, apps such as Facebook or Instagram, which users give access to their microphones, are sometimes using this right to listen to conversations but there is no precise information about the way they choose to listen to their users ; this could be the place the users actually are, the function of the app they are using … However, the microphone needs to be triggered by a certain sentence or specific words, for instance travel, shopping, computer, car etc.
Exposed to rumors and multiple articles about this phenomenon, giants such as Facebook deny these facts. But is it really surprising that a company operating secretly with personal data denies facts like these ?
The biggest danger for users is to see their data sold. However some specialists affirm that there was no company selling personal data in 2018. Indeed, the procedures of these companies are much more elaborated : instead of selling personal data to retailers or other companies and to provide them with a list of potential customers, they purpose them to show their advertisement directly to the potential customers against payment.
Even if the situation is at this point today, there is no guarantee that the multitude of information collected by these companies will not been sold one day to the highest bidder.
Furthermore, even if these information are supposedly safely kept on their servers, the National Security Agency achieved intercept them as revealed by Edward Snowden.
So how can users protect themselves from this new type of violation of privacy?
There isn’t any “perfect answer” to this question. Technically speaking, it has already been showed that smartphones can listen and record our conversations, on this side there is nothing else users could do.
From a legal point of view, the law is supposed to keep us safe but as the terms and conditions are continuously evolving it is very difficult to apply the law in these cases.
Moreover, the damage has often already been done when it comes to legal solutions.
Many users think that these giants from the internet are offering free services, but this is absolutely not the case. Even if users don’t have to spend even one dollar to use these services, they are paying with their data.
The only real advice to keep you and your data safe is the following one: don’t publish any of your personal data that you want to keep safe!
Author: Marc Gemmrich
UDLAP Master in Business Administration Student