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Is Facebook secretly listening to us? Company exec denies the rumours

This author has reason to believe Facebook is listening to us.

Many of us have a similar story. The finer details may vary, but the message is always the same.

At some point, you’ve had a spoken conversation with someone about something very specific, and something highly random. You haven’t searched for it on Google, or expressed any previous interest.

But suddenly, within days or even hours of your conversation, you see an advert for that very same thing on Facebook. It’s almost as though the social media app is listening to what you say, right?

 

Here’s my own version of the above. A tale I’ve recounted to many since it happened. I was on a tram in the lovely northern city of Sheffield, my home city, and started chatting to a pal about places I used to visit when I was a child. This caused me to launch into a full blown detailed explanation of how and why I used to love Water World in Stoke so very much.

The moment passed, and we both moved on from the conversation, and on with our lives. Yet, the very next day, I was scrolling lazily through my Facebook app when, lo and behold, a sponsored post for Water World appeared on my newsfeed. Coincidence? Maybe. But let’s look at the facts.

I hadn’t searched for Water World on my phone, or even my laptop since (or ever before) the conversation. Nor had I been searching for ‘children’s entertainment venues’ or anything of the like. I’m childless and 27 years old… so not exactly the key demographic for an advert of this type. What’s more, Stoke is around 80 miles away from my ‘current location’ so I clearly wasn’t being targeted based on region either.

In my mind, that was proof enough — Facebook had heard my conversation.

 

I’m not alone when it comes to this belief either. In fact, recently, there have been a whole load of claims to the same effect. One YouTuber, Neville Black, tested the theory as seen in the video below. Of course, the video may well be faked. The claims may be false. It could be we’re all paranoid. But it seems to support the theory that Facebook is listening to us.

Podcaster, PJ Vogt, recently tweeted asking listeners to call in if they believed that the app/social media platform was listening to their conversations. Surprisingly, Facebook’s VP of ads, Rob Goldman, rose to the tweet and replied right away. “I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true,” he wrote.

Of course, there could well be other explanations as to why it seems Facebook hears and advertises what you say in conversation. For example, it could be that Facebook already advertises products or services you like, but you only notice after you’ve consciously been thinking about them.

Likewise, it may be that you saw an advert, but skipped over it not really noticing it consciously. The subconscious mind, however, in all its complexity, may have nestled it somewhere only to resurface in a later conversation. If that were the case, you’d understandably be a little freaked out seeing the advert, and actually noticing it, on Facebook.

In short, it may be a mere coincidence and just our human nature to convince ourselves that Facebook is conspiring against us. That’s plausible enough when you really think about it, right? But, at least in my opinion, the jury’s still very much out on the whole thing. I’m watching you, Facebook. And listening.

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