Are people dealing with the possibility of surveillance on their mobile devices?
“The looming interconnectivity between objects in our homes, cars and cities, generally referred to as the internet of things, will change digital surveillance substantially […] everything from washing machines to sex toys will soon be able to communicate, creating a vast amount of data about our lives. And this deluge of data won’t only be passed back and forth between objects but will most likely wind its way towards corporate and government reservoirs.” (The Guardian, 2015)
The conversation of mobile connectivity and surveillance is one that has worried generations of people as the internet has become more accessible. Accessibility to network devices has allowed us to connect to absolutely everything no matter where we are. We can contact someone from the other side of the globe. We can also send a signal to our kettles in the other room to start boiling. But are our devices being used by a third party for surveillance, and how is this affecting individuals that use mobile devices every day?
Last week I was talking to my friend about how I really wanted to get SNS on my nails. The very next day, my Facebook advertised for SNS on my feed. I wasn’t sure if I was just feeling paranoid or if my phone was actually listening to my conversations.
Both Google and Facebook have denied the accusations against their platforms listening on us to target appropriate advertising;
“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true.” (USA Today, 2018).
Facebook, Amazon and Google have admitted to their devices listening in for “wake words”. Some examples include “OK, Google,” “Hey Siri” or “Alexa”, which are transported to the Cloud in order to process your request. They also say that they don’t monitor conversations. Facebook has additionally said that they only access the microphone on your phone if you agree to let them, so you can record videos etc.
So is the fear of surveillance changing the way we feel about carrying mobile devices with us everywhere? I conducted some qualitative research on students at the Wollongong campus to evaluate their experiences and ask if they had taken any precautions since.
One student spoke about an incident that occurred at the races in Sydney.
“When I went to the races I tried a Gordon’s cocktail and spoke about it, then after the races, I kept getting ads for it. I used to have the ‘hey Siri’ feature turned on but I got rid of Siri completely.”
Another person commented;
“I genuinely have not noticed anything specifically to do with my phone “listening” to me through the microphone, however, if I am on my calendar app typing in “gym”, my Facebook advertising begins to show me sponsored posts from echt, gymshark and other activewear brands. Because I study advertising & digital/social media, I understand and don’t actually mind the idea of the phone being able to take everything u type/say and sending the data off to brands, it’s just how target marketing work and data analysts acquire their statistics. I haven’t taken any specific precautions.”
Mostly everyone I interviewed had an example of a time they believed their phone was listening in on them, however, only 1 student took action against it by turning Siri off her phone.
Although networks such as Facebook and Google have denied mobile phone surveillance as a strategy to target advertising, device holders still believe that they are being listened to. Even so, not many are doing anything about it. Do you think we should be doing something?
The Guardian. 2015. What Does the Panopticon Mean in the Age of Digital Surveillance?. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
USA Today. 2018. No, Facebook doesn’t secretly listen via your microphone to target ads at you. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/04/10/no-facebook-doesnt-secretly-listen-via-your-microphone-target-ads-you/505257002/. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
Matt Klein, (2017), Siri Image. Available at: https://www.howtogeek.com/229308/26-actually-useful-things-you-can-do-with-siri [Accessed 17 September 2019].