Journalist is left spooked after Facebook targeted her with ads for random products which she was speaking about hours before.
‘Big Brother is watching you’ was once a far-fetched prophecy from George Orwell’s 1984. However, it seems like our society could be moving towards an Orwellian reality quicker than we think.
Have you ever had a conversation about a random product and then had a Facebook ad for it later that day? Us too. It seems like a huge amount of people have experienced this at one point or another and it’s causing waves of paranoia throughout the westernized world.
Some people believe it’s coincidence, others put it down to the fact that they must have searched for the product at some point and it slipped their mind. However, what happens when we’re absolutely adamant that we haven’t searched for a product and this still happens? What happens when we’re talking about something completely bizarre with our friends and then we’re presented with the product on our Facebook feed hours later- it feels too weird to be a coincidence, right?
Obviously the question has been raised to Zuckerberg many times before, to which he’s always outright denied the ‘urban myth’.
Zuckerberg was quizzed this week on how Facebook uses data and it was no surprise that the Facebook boss was once again asked about the apps telepathic tendencies during his questioning from US politicians at Congress;
“Yes or no, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about users?” asked Senator Gary Peters.
“No,” Zuckerberg responded.
He went on to explain that Facebook does have access to audio when people record videos on their devices for Facebook, but otherwise it doesn’t access your microphone. Naturally however, many people are still not satisfied with this answer and are feeling increasingly spooked out about the targeted ads.
It emerged on Friday, that Tyler Mears, a journalist from Wales, UK was particularly creeped out when she was targeted, as the products she was speaking about with her boyfriend were so bizarre and so random that the sight of the ad hours later absolutely baffled her. Mears believed there was no other explanation apart from the fact that Facebook must have picked up on words she said through the mic on her phone.
This is Mears version of the mysterious event;
“It all started when I needed to pee.
Here’s a bit of context. My partner and I, having recently bought a campervan, were talking about female urination devices and how useful they would be for the van.
You know those portable funnel-looking things that women can use to pee on the move? It was completely random and, to be honest, we had a right old giggle about the whole idea.
And that was it. Nothing but a fleeting conversation and soon after I forgot all about it.
That is, until the next day, when I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed an ad from the e-commerce company Wish pop up on my timeline.
It was advertising female urinating devices for £1.”
Ok, pretty creepy- but this isn’t the end of Mears story. The journalist then went on to explain that things got even weirder;
“Over the weekend, one of the colleagues I had told about this had jokingly recounted my experience to one of the other mothers at her son’s rugby game.
Like me, they both thought nothing more of it. Until the mother was also targeted with the same ad for female urination devices the following day.
Again, she claims that she hadn’t researched the product in any way, apart from talking to my colleague about it at the game.
I just couldn’t see what the explanation could be.
Apart from talking about it, I had not researched this product at all. So I hadn’t Googled it, or typed it into Facebook.
Surely, this was such a random item that this ad couldn’t be just a pure coincidence?
I decided to tell my work colleagues about it. And, naturally, most of them laughed and shrugged it off. I was suddenly becoming the crazy, conspiracy theorist Zuckerberg joked about.”
Strange huh? But things were about to get even stranger…
A few days later and things really started to freak me out.
In work, I had been sent a police video of a man attempting to stab an officer during an arrest. It was a really shocking video. It was sent via email from a Welsh police force and linked to the video on their YouTube channel.
Later that day, while at home, I showed a copy of the YouTube video to my partner.
We talked about how lucky the officer was that he was wearing a stab-proof vest, or he might have been seriously injured.
Like before, I thought nothing more of it and the night carried on as normal.
And then Mears was targeted with this ad;
“At around midnight, I checked Facebook only to see another ad from Wish. This time, advertising a stab proof vest!
Now, I was officially freaked out. I hadn’t researched stab-proof vests in any way.”
There’s no denying that this would make anyone stop and think ‘how is this happening?’ and also feel some resentment towards the social media site for being so bold in it’s sneaky actions. Mears decided to ask Facebook out right about this event- she shared her story with them and sent in screenshots of the ads in the hope of getting some real answers. However, the result was rather disappointing. Facebook again denied the allegations that they access the microphone on any device without the users permission.
Therefore, we’re unfortunately still left wondering what the real truth is on this. Do Facebook actively listen to our personal conversations? Are there algorithms in place to pick up on certain words we say which then go on to present us with ads? Or maybe we’re all just completely crazy and paranoid. Who knows? Either way, it’s all getting very ‘Black Mirror’. Charlie Brooker, take note for series 5.
What is your opinion on this topic? Do you believe Zuckerberg is hiding something from us when it comes to Facebook accessing our microphones? We’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment and feel free to share this with your friends.