The internet isn’t listening to your conversations. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be worried

By Shira Jeczmien

Updated May 16, 2020 at 10:07 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

If you have ever felt the sensation that your social media channels are slyly eavesdropping on your personal conversations only to spit majorly personalised ad content on your feed, then this new project sponsored by Mozilla and co-created by artists Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne is just what the doctor ordered. For the techno-paranoid walking amongst us, The New Organs is a quirky platform where you, and others like you, can relieve this long built up suspicion. Breathe, what a relief. Upon entering the website users are greeted with a comforting question, “Does the Internet know more about you than you think it should?” If the answer is yes, simply scroll down and tick the relevant statements from a list that includes examples such as “I see ads for things I dream about” and “Ads know things about me that I haven’t told anyone.”

The thing is, while the two artists have reportedly received more than 700 submissions of uncanny fables of ad targeting for which very few of us have a plausible explanation, it would be outright illegal for companies to do so. Back in 2016 when everyone was convinced their phones were being ‘hacked’, Facebook denied the theories in a public statement, assuring the world that “This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about.” Two years and one Cambridge Analytica Senate Testimony later, it has been concluded that no, our social media platforms do not listen to our conversations as beyond legality, this type of targeting would require the storage of vast amounts of data and the assistance of highly specialised machine learning to pick up targetable sentences such as “I want pizza”.

milo-alterio

But maybe that breath of relief was preempted, because the real explanation for why so many of us feel as though we are being stalked by our beloved social media platforms is much, much more worrying and relates back to the honesty of the statement Facebook released in defence. Indeed no speakers are being accessed as the ads that are shown to you are an amalgamation of your likes, dislikes; your Google maps whereabouts, where you eat, where you shop (information that is passed to social media through banks and other services we use), and lastly and perhaps most importantly—exactly the same extent of information gathered on your friends. All of this data is clumped together and used to make profiles about users that are sometimes banal: online shopper, vegetarian, lives within five miles of a Tesco or Poundland. And sometimes slightly more invasive, such as: recently broken up, separated from family and suffers from a certain medical condition.

Within this breadth of information about you and everyone around you, ads can take on an uncanny zeitgeist twist and begin to seem as though they are reading your thoughts, infiltrating your dreams and eavesdropping on your pillow talk insights. Because as much as our psyche urges our mind to believe we are uniquely individualistic, what our consumer selves desire has been largely influenced by what our surrounding desires; what is trending, the conversations we have and in turn the dreams we dream. Just a few months ago Amelia Tait conducted a thorough conversational experiment for the New Statesman to test the tapped microphone theory—and concluded that no, social media is not listening to our conversations. But, as rightly said, rather than worrying that our privacy is outright breached, we should “worry about the multitude of smaller privacy invading scandals that have allowed Facebook to get so much information on you.”

Keep On Reading

By Abby Amoakuh

Travis Barker’s ex-wife takes jab at his relationship with Kourtney, calls Kardashians disgusting

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Tory MP Gillian Keegan asked to justify arresting homeless people for their smell

By Abby Amoakuh

Are Jeremy Allen White and Rosalía dating? We compiled all the evidence for this hot, new romance

By Charlie Sawyer

What to do if Monzo freezes or closes your bank account

By Abby Amoakuh

Why gen Zers don’t want to climb the corporate ladder: A deep dive into the middle management problem

By Abby Amoakuh

Far-right influencers try to bail out Elon Musk as Disney and Apple leave X due to antisemitism claims

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

A triangle of sadness: The 3 biggest issues facing UK universities at the moment

By Charlie Sawyer

How to date in 2024: Ditch other people’s romantic timelines and focus on you and only you

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Andrew Tate says MrBeast’s support of trans friend Kris Tyson is fake and a psyop

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Are Drake and Camila Cabello dating or is a collaboration on the horizon? Let’s look at the facts

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Meet Sisters of the Valley, the nuns revolutionising the weed industry one doobie at a time

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden is the murder suspect standing for re-election in Australia

By Abby Amoakuh

Julia Fox and Madonna become bodybuilders in new Sevdaliza and Grimes music video

By Charlie Sawyer

Piers Morgan responds to Shakira’s claim that the Barbie movie is emasculating

By Charlie Sawyer

TikToker reveals tragic story of finding out his best friend is a hired actor

By Abby Amoakuh

The rise of Ozempic babies: Popular weight loss drug found to lower efficacy of birth control pills

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Tripping through J.Lo-land: Unpacking the singer’s most insane project yet

By Charlie Sawyer

Understanding the sneaky link: Meaning of the dating trend beyond the hook-up

By Alma Fabiani

What is BFFR?

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Man who attacked Las Vegas judge in viral video charged with her attempted murder