Gizmodo: These Academics Spent the Last Year Testing Whether Your Phone Is Secretly Listening to You by Kashmir Hill (it’s not but apps tracking what you see and seek may make it seem that way):
It’s the smartphone conspiracy theory that just won’t go away: Many, many people are convinced that their phones are listening to their conversations to target them with ads. Vice recently fueled the paranoia with an article that declared “Your phone is listening and it’s not paranoia,” a conclusion the author reached based on a 5-day experiment where he talked about “going back to uni” and “needing cheap shirts” in front of his phone and then saw ads for shirts and university classes on Facebook.
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The level of paranoia people feel about their phones is understandable. We have on our persons at almost all times a little device with myriad sensors that can potentially monitor our behavior. The uncanny accuracy of the ads you see, though, almost certainly isn’t the result of the phone literally eavesdropping on you; it’s a combination of good targeting based on the amount of your digital and real world behavior that is captured via apps, along with the fact that you aren’t as unique as you think you are. Advertisers know what you’re talking about because other people like you are talking about the same things and buying the same things.
“We didn’t see any evidence that people’s conversations are being recorded secretly,” said David Choffnes, one of the authors of the paper. “What people don’t seem to understand is that there’s a lot of other tracking in daily life that doesn’t involve your phone’s camera or microphone that give a third party just as comprehensive a view of you.”