You've just come off a phone call with Aunty Barbara where you raved about a brand-new song you're singing on repeat, yet when you end the call and turn your phone back to your favourite social media app, you notice you're being targeted with links to purchase the CD, Vinyl record, merch and concert tickets for your new fave artist. Sound somewhat familiar?
Let us explain how online tracking works, and uncover whether your phone is in fact listening in on your conversations...
Online tracking is a technique used by companies to gather information about a web user's behaviour and preferences.
When you use your phone to browse the internet, access apps, or use social media, your device sends a wealth of information to the servers of the companies you interact with. This information includes details about your device, as well as your location and browsing history.
Many apps and websites use this information to track your activities. For example, a weather app may use your location to provide you with accurate weather forecasts, while a social media app may use your browsing history to show you relevant ads.
This information can also be used to create targeted ads. Advertisers can use the information they collect about your behaviour and preferences to show you ads that are more likely to be of interest to you. For example, if you repeatedly searched for your new ear-worm on Spotify, companies may show you ads for any merchandise the artist is selling, and these ads can follow you around the web.
Additionally, apps can also monitor how long you view an ad for in order to gauge your interest in the content. This is called view-ability tracking, and it allows advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their ads, and optimise them to reach the right audience and achieve better results.
What's more, you can also be targeted with ads based on the activities of people you spend time with. For example, you stay at a friends house overnight and connect to their WiFi. During your time there you use their shampoo, and the following day you're targeted with an ad for the same brand of shampoo. Here's a detailed overview of how this information is shared:
You are at your friends house, meaning Apps, websites and social media platforms are collecting your location data.
Your friend has a Tesco Clubcard which has information on the shampoo they often purchase, and the location of their home.
You connect to your friend's WiFi enabling your browsing and purchase history and your friends' to become connected.
You are targeted with Ads based on your friend's browsing and purchase history.
While online tracking can be useful for personalising your experience and showing you relevant ads, it's important to be aware of the privacy settings on your phone and the apps you use, and to regularly review and adjust them as needed to protect your personal information. You can also use anti-tracking browser extension and browser's built-in tracking prevention features to protect your privacy.
So, to answer the question, is your phone listening to you? The long and short of it is, no. The ads you're targeted with would have been shown to you regardless of the conversations you had - the fact you spoke about the product you're being targeted with is highly coincidental.