Don’t let them control what you see

Is your phone listening to you… all the time?

I overheard a friend talking about an interesting but potentially troubling work situation last month. Nothing ground-breaking or commercially sensitive to the point where non-disclosure agreements were going to be hastily reviewed by lawyers or anything like that but clearly, it was information not intended for my ears.

I promptly forgot about.

That is to say, until that same friend started talking to me and a mutual friend about the same situation a while later. Well, you know how when you are already familiar with a story, you can find yourself chiming in with a detail here or there as the narrator lays out the facts? Well, I found myself offering a layer of detail to the narrative – much to the surprise of my friend. Surprise turned to curiosity, suspicion and then annoyance.

“How did you know about all of this, I didn’t tell anyone but (name deleted).”

Yes,I’d been sprung and it was awkward. Very awkward. Let me just confirm that everything is fine between my friend and I now. I got the opportunity to explain that I wasn’t eavesdropping but that I had heard snippets of conversation as I walked past the office all those weeks ago.

The point is that when we discover that our private conversations aren’t as private as we’d have hoped and then that fact is revealed to us,we don’t like it – usually. You might find yourself feeling a little exposed and left wondering what else has been heard or seen that could compromise levels of trust.

Rumours abound that your phone or mobile device, at the behest of one or more of the big data collecting agents, is doing just that. The same systems that allow you to voice command web searches or climate control within your home or office, are also contributing to decisions around what ads you see when you’re online. Sounds preposterous? Creepy? Big Brother gone mad anyone? Anyone?

Other examples abound such as this one found in Vice earlier this year.

Twice a day for five days, I tried saying a bunch of phrases that could theoretically be used as triggers. Phrases like I’m thinking about going back to uni and I need some cheap shirts for work.Then I carefully monitored the sponsored posts on Facebook for any changes.

The changes came literally overnight. Suddenly I was being told mid-semester courses at various universities, and how certain brands were offering cheap clothing. A private conversation with a friend about how I’d run out of data led to an ad about cheap 20 GB data plans. And although they were all good deals, the whole thing was eye-opening and utterly terrifying.

That’s just a snippet but you can read the full story here.

The point of technology is to do the jobs we can’t or won’t, not mimic the behaviours we wouldn’t want to model ourselves – particularly without consent.

As mentioned in previous issues of Secure News, data collection and dissemination are big business. It’s not outlandish to suggest that it’s an industry that measures dollars in billions not millions.

This story is about increasing your awareness of the increasing lengths entities will go to monetise your data, without your explicit consent or even knowledge. Just one more reason to keep your data safe and get in contact with us about protecting your online privacy.