This weird scenario happens daily. You are talking to someone about a new TV show or a pair of shoes you really want. Once you start scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram, the same show, ads for shoes, or just about anything you mention start showing up on your feed.
It could be minutes after you had a conversation, or it could be days. The fact remains that this happens all the time. It begs the question: Is Facebook listening to my conversations? Is Instagram spying on me?
The answer is not as simple as one would want it to be.
A Woman From Wales Was Targeted With One Product
Tyler Mears asked herself these questions multiple times. After several conversations with her partner and co-workers, she saw one ad.
The strange part: the product in question was a female urination device.
Mears did not Google the product but mentioned it in several casual conversations. But it happened again.
A co-worker sent her a video of a man trying to stab a cop while he was arresting him. She showed it to her partner, who mentioned how the police officer was lucky since he wore a stab-proof vest.
Later, she checked out her Facebook only to find an ad for a stab-proof vest.
Is Facebook Spying On You Is An Age-Old Question
Back in 2016, many started noticing that once they mention something, it pops up on their feeds. The conspiracy theory started circulating that Facebook and similar apps use microphones to listen to their users.
The company denied it, and in a Senate hearing in 2018, senator Gary Peters asked Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg:
"Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?"
Zuckerberg replied with a no, but not many believed that was the case.
The now Meta CEO called these rumors conspiracy theories.
If Zuckerberg Is Right, How Come We Talk About Something, And It Pops Up As An Ad?
Journalist Gayle King asked Instagram executive Adam Mosseri about this ongoing issue. Of course, he said that the company doesn't look at your messages or listen to your microphone, adding that would be problematic for many reasons.
Of course, he added: "But I recognize you're not gonna really believe me."
And while it may seem too convenient not to believe him, there are several reasons why these big CEOs might not be lying.
It is illegal, but more importantly, where would you store all that data? Nearly four billion people use social media on mobile devices. We have never heard of software so sophisticated and advanced that it could listen to, remember, and use every conversation.
You have every right to be suspicious, but you also need to be realistic.
How Does Facebook's Hyper-Targeted Advertising Work?
Facebook's official explanation simply says it targets a specific gender, age group, education, and area to choose the right ad for you.
If you and your friend keep seeing the same ad, that is also not uncommon. Facebook's algorithm targets your Facebook friends with products one of them already bought if you fall into the target audience of the company in question.
Facebook's algorithm also recognizes whether you have pets, small kids, or spend too much time with someone based on what you share - locations, photos, etc.
In short, Facebook and other similar apps are not spying on you in that James Bond 007 kind of way. But, they are processing all the information you already gave them, and it all happens so fast that it appears as if they are actually spying on you.
Tech industry veteran Phil Lieberman said Facebook's artificial intelligence (AI) engine uses textual and visual material that you provide:
"With intent, they can find products and services you might be interested in. This is all about 'recommender systems' similar to what Amazon offers, but FB has more information on an ongoing basis to determine what you might be interested in buying."
The lead partner at SBM Intelligence explained that specific keywords give Artificial Intelligence an idea of "the kind of things we could like."
Facebook Is Using The Data You Feed Them To
Details that people often share, such as age, employer, relationship status, likes, and location, are just the start.
Every time you tag a person or comment on a post, you give Facebook more information, leading to more suitable ads.
They do not hide that they collect "content, communications, and other information" that you provided. It includes likes, reactions, hashtags, etc.
Facebook also tracks your behavior outside the app. You use your Facebook to sign in to other websites, willingly providing Meta with more data.
The app also tracks your locations if you allow it even once. You should set tracking to "never," but that won't stop Facebook from collecting data.
Is There A Way To Avoid Being Monitored Online?
Unless you are ready to give up your Android or iPhone, there is not much you can do about the ad targeting.
Among things recommended are clearing cache regularly, not accepting cookies, not giving away private information, and checking whether your preferred browser is the safest.
It is challenging, especially if you live in a country whose security agencies carry out massive surveillance on its residents' social media. Basically, you should keep some things for yourself, and remember that it is not just Facebook. It is also TikTok, Twitter, Youtube, and numerous games.
Hopefully, this helps with the question is Facebook spying on you. Yes, but the company uses it for marketing. At least, we hope so.