Facebook has had some controversy over the past few weeks with conspiracy theorists coming out in droves to report that Facebook is spying on its users. There are testimonies surfacing on many platforms, such as Reddit, suggesting that Facebook is doing just that. Many have reported that Facebook is “listening” to its user and placing ads in users’ news feeds that are relevant to conversations the users have had. While there is no evidence that this is happening, there have been many shocking reports.
There was one report, however, that stirred up this controversy. After growing suspicion, a man and his wife decided to test the theory that Facebook was “listening” to its users. For a week, the man and his wife left their Facebook app open on their phones while talking about getting a cat and buying cat food. Two weeks later, an ad for cat food popped up in the man’s news feed. It does not sound shocking, but the man claims there has never been an ad for cat food in his news feed until he and his wife talked about getting a cat. Having cat food appear in your news feed is not groundbreaking or that concerning, but it does raise a question. Is Facebook really placing ads based on our conversations? Facebook, of course, has come out and denied this claim and many people are saying it is a mere coincidence, but it seems like a strange coincidence to me.
Although it is Facebook that has been in the news, it is possible that many websites and apps are doing the same thing. I have experienced this twice in the past few months. One night at Walmart, I was buying a hair product from OGX. I had never purchased something from this company in my life. When I got home and opened Facebook, there was an ad for OGX in my news feed. Just a week ago, I was on a school computer searching dance schools, such as Juilliard. When I opened Instagram later that day, there was an ad for a dance school in Huntsville. Needless to say, I do believe this theory.
Let’s say this theory is true—is it really an invasion of privacy? And if they are listening, is it as big of a deal as some people make it out to be?
When you download Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or any app, the app asks for permission to use your camera and microphone. You can say ‘no’ but most people go ahead and say ‘yes’, without giving it much thought. If you hit ‘yes’, you give the app permission to use the things on your phone that hear your voice and see your daily life.
The ads that pop up are things the app picks up on in hopes for a click or future purchase. You don’t have to click on the link and can just ignore them and continue on with your memes and Buzzfeed quizzes. And why wouldn’t you want ads you actually want to see? Instead of ads for an object that can allow you to lick your cat or a light to help you take better selfies, you can have ads that are things you actually like or could use in your daily life. Who wouldn’t want that? The app hears you talking about needing a new mattress and you have links for Purple Mattresses popping up. It would be easy and quick to get what you want.
I uderstand why it would freak people out, especially the idea of the app listening to and recording you at all times. A lot of people would jump to the conclusion that it is the government that is listening, but that is a whole other discussion. The idea of people you do not know having insight into your life without permission is enough to keep people off social media apps all together. But I do think it is a good thing, to an extent, to have things that appeal to your needs. What do you think?