Facebook may not be doing “heardu” ads…but it sure seems like something is!

Facebook may not be doing “heardu” ads…but it sure seems like something is!

While Facebook has repeatedly denied using your phone’s microphone to “eavesdrop” on your casual conversations and target ads to you based on that, I’ve had a couple of experiences recently where something on my phone doing that seems the most likely explanation.

It certainly doesn’t have to be Facebook, and I would think in my case, that would be unlikely. I don’t use Facebook much at all, and I didn’t see the ads on Facebook. In one case, it was an ad at the top of my e-mail feed.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that my experiences prove that my phone is listening to me to target ads…it’s just that it seems like the most likely explanation.

What are the other explanations?

One would be that the ad is just random, and it just happened to come right after I talked about a relevant subject. Part of it would be that I noticed the ad because I had been talking about it. Let’s say the ad was for…pineapples. Let’s also say I get an ad for pineapples once a week. I might not ever notice that I get those pineapple ads (that happens with a lot of ads…it’s part of why they show the same ones to you over and over) until it was relevant, because I had been talking and thinking about it.

Another possibility would be that the ad was targeted to me…but not based on the conversation. We’ll go back to the pineapple example.  While I may have been talking about pineapples, I might also have searched for information about them in a search engine, or belonged to a group of pineapple lovers…or that I had other interests which statistically made it seem likely that I was interested in pineapples. That’s one of the things that can make it seem mysterious…it could be that the majority of people who watch, say, My Favorite Martian reruns also like pineapples.

Both of those things are probably mistaken for heardu ads (I just made up that term, by the way) from time to time.

I’ll give you my two recent scenarios, and you can decide if it seems likely or not. If you have another idea which you think is more likely, I’d be happy to hear it. 🙂

In the first case, my Significant Other and I were staying in a hotel to attend my sibling’s wedding. There were a couple of other attendees joining us in our suite a couple of days later.

I realized that, because of the clothing we’d all need to have for various events, that we’d need more hangers than we had. I suggested we stop by the Front Desk on the way out to ask for some more.

After that conversation (and note that we had not searched for hangers on our devices, or asked our devices about hangers), an ad showed up on my SO’s device…for wooden hangers.

That seems like a really odd thing to be randomly advertised. Yes, we probably had done things on our phones which had to do with formal wear…and I suppose it could have read our itineraries and known we were going to a wedding, and even that we were staying in a hotel. However, guessing that we needed hangers at that exact time seems less believable to me than something we know is technologically possible. I know my phone listens to me…I can say, “OK, Google” and it will interact with me. If it wasn’t listening to me, it wouldn’t know when I said, “OK, Google”.

The other one was that I was recently teaching a class to surgeons. One example we were using was a surgery where the referring condition was a hernia.

I did not need to research anything online about hernias.

After I’d been teaching the class for a couple of hours, we took a break…and I had a banner ad at the top of my e-mail feed related to hernia mesh!

That one seems especially unlikely to me to have happened in another way. I’m not particularly in a risk group for hernias. I don’t belong to any hernia special interest groups. I suppose it could be based on my profession…if it was reading PDFs on my device, then perhaps.

At this point, it simply seems most likely to me that it heard my conversation and targeted the ad.

Quite a few apps have microphone access on my phone…I know I could turn it off, but I do use it often…and I really don’t mind getting targeted ads. If I’m going to get ads anyway, they might as well be more relevant.

That’s what I think: feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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One Response to “Facebook may not be doing “heardu” ads…but it sure seems like something is!”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    This sounds like the kind of behavior I would believe stems from either Verizon or AT&T. I had the same hearu (love your term) ads for a while as a Verizon customer. For other reasons I dropped them and now use another smaller company with better service and rates and have not seen an ad of any kind since switching. I am still using the same apps with the exception of Verizon’s required pre-installed ones which leads me to the conclusion that Verizon was spying on my calls. No ads for pineapples either, but having never subscribed to any of those subversive pineapple 🍍 huggers groups would not expect to be targeted unless I had a conversation about them … or booked a trip to Hawaii on my phone.

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