The Truth About Ads: Why Your Phone Seem to Know You


Do you look at the ads on your screen every time you surf the net? Chances are you do because your phone shows you ads of the products or services you’ve consumed before. For example, if you ordered a dress online, you’d usually see an ad of the dress’s brand on your phone on the same day.

You don’t even need to consume a product or service for it to be advertised to you. If you visit a brand’s website, even for just a minute, their ads would pop in almost every site you visit. The same thing happens if you drop by a place to read a blog or an article. If the content includes information about a particular product or service, ads will bombard you from then on.

But of all those instances, this one is the most confusing: Seeing ads about products or services you never searched on the internet but only spoke about. It sparked controversy and conspiracy theories that your phone is listening to you. Naturally, it received different reactions, most of all fear. Indeed, who would want their phones eavesdropping on their conversations?

It looks like smartphone users have nothing to fear, though. Google and Facebook already denied spying on their users to know which ads to show them. If that’s the case, then how come your phone knows you so well?

How Advertisers Get to Know You

It may be easier to claim that your phone is listening to you. But rather than your conversations, it’s your browsing history that your phone stores. Even if you didn’t search for a particular product or service on the web, the websites you visit could’ve indicated your interest in that product or service. For example, if you visited a blog about skincare for the summer, you may see ads about sunscreens when you surf the net again.

Your social media monitors your activity as well. Facebook and other social networking sites use tracking technologies to see which pages you’ve Liked or visited. So if you dropped by the Instagram page of a specific swimsuit brand, then ads of other swimsuit brands will start to swarm your feed.

If you still see ads of products or services you neither talked about nor searched, maybe it’s because of your social media contacts. Google stated that they also base the ads you see on your contacts’ activities.

Your online purchases, unsurprisingly, play a role in the ads you see, too. Google also stated that they have access to 70% of credit and debit card transactions across the U.S. So there’s no spying at all.

The Role of Voice Controls in Advertising

phone with apps

Your phones don’t listen to you — but they do catch the words or phrases you say that they can find ads about. That’s a little price you pay for activating the voice controls in your phone or using voice-powered smart controls.

And it’s legal for companies to “listen” to you. Developers claim that they don’t abuse this power, anyway. But you’re free to dislike it.

Before we tackle your privacy concerns, though, let’s discuss how phones hear you first. The most obvious reason is that your mic is always on. As such, it will keep picking up sounds from you and your surroundings. Your phone routinely collects your voice data, store it in a distant server, and use for marketing purposes. Smartphone companies used to be discreet about it, but this process is becoming common knowledge now.

It’s a bit unsettling, but smart tech providers, advertisers, and brands shouldn’t be antagonized for it. If your phones don’t show you the right ads, wouldn’t it be more annoying? Brands spend for effective PPC ads, after all. They need their ads to reach the right audience, and without the technology that we have now, their spending would’ve been for nothing. You, on the other hand, wouldn’t see ads that please you.

Overall, it’s a win-win situation for both consumers and businesses. You get to access the brands you actually care about, while companies get more revenue and increased brand awareness.

How to Ensure Your Privacy

You don’t have to put up with your phone using your voice data for marketing purposes. Just deactivate your Siri or OK Google, and disable the mic access for your apps. You can also head to your iPhone’s Settings, into Privacy, down to the Advertising section, and enable the Limit Ad Tracking function. This will prevent advertisers from collecting your search history data.

But if the ads don’t bother you, rest assured that your privacy isn’t being compromised. Advertisers and brands want to ensure that they’re always on your radar. If there’s something you should be wary of, it’s security threats. Hackers will try to exploit your voice data, unlike advertisers. So strengthen your privacy because of real threats, not because of businesses who mean no harm at all.

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