Is Your Smartphone Spying on You?

03/10/2016 10:09

by Emily Graham


Recently, a friend and I were hanging out on my couch, chatting with one another and absentmindedly scrolling through our phones — checking up on Instagram, Facebook, and texts. A typical millennial scene.

Then we noticed something strange…An advertisement on my friend’s Facebook news feed for an Under Armour camo-print hoodie.


How is that strange?

Because just moments before, I’d asked my friend whether I could borrow that exact same sweatshirt. Now, here on her Facebook news feed, was
an ad for an identical sweatshirt. We wrote it off as a strange coincidence. But then not long after this, I checked my Instagram and saw an ad for Blue
Apron, a food delivery service we’d also been discussing. We hadn’t Googled either of these items — or typed anything about them into our phones — but our social media apps had been open the whole time we were chatting.

Had our phones targeted us with ads based upon our private conversation?


When you install Facebook, Instagram, and other apps, they ask permission to access the microphone on your phone. We both had this setting enabled, assuming it was standard procedure. But now it appeared like these apps were using the microphone to target ads to us.


So what’s the deal? The truth is hard to track down. Facebook (which owns Instagram) claims they don’t do this — but you can find hundreds of people online who have written about their own experiences with these “coincidences.”

A Solution for the Precautious

If you find this a bit creepy and prefer to err on the safe side, you don’t have to abandon social media. Instead, simply grab your phone, go to Settings and select “Privacy.” There, you’ll see “Microphone” listed. Click on it, and you should see a list of apps that have access to your phone’s microphone — likely morethan you’d expect. Turn this access off. Whether you’ve received these conversation-triggered ads or not, this will put a stop to them.


Emily Graham is associate editor of Laissez Faire. C.C. Laissez Faire