In a viral Twitter thread, a tech worker explains why your social media apps aren’t listening to you.
Robert G. Reeve, a privacy technologist, shared on Twitter on Tuesday that he’d been served an ad for a toothpaste brand that his mother uses. Is it a coincidence? Certainly not.
Reeve had just returned from a week at her mother’s house. However, before this could be used as yet another example of phones listening in on conversations, Reeve created a now-viral Twitter thread explaining how digital ads work.
He tweeted, “I’m back from a week at my mom’s house and now I’m getting ads for her toothpaste brand, which I’ve been using for a week.” “We never discussed this brand, never googled it, never did anything like that. Let me explain why this is happening as a privacy technologist.”
I’ve returned from a week at my mother’s house, and now I’m seeing advertisements for her toothpaste brand, which I’ve been using for the past week. We never discussed the brand, never looked it up on the internet, and never did anything like that.
Let me explain why this is happening as a privacy technologist.
May 25, 2021 — Robert G. Reeve (@RobertGReeve)
The idea of social media apps listening in on private conversations, he explained, is a “conspiracy theory.” He claims that social media apps, web browsers, and cellular devices don’t need to listen because the data that is freely given to them minute by minute is “way cheaper and way more powerful.”
“Your apps collect a ton of data from your phone,” he said. “Your unique device ID. Your location. Your demographics. Weknowdis [sic].”
Purchases, browser history, etc., are all data that is bought and sold by aggregators. And because people tend to use the same email and phone number for their social media accounts as they do for online retailers, rewards programs, etc., aggregators can match an individual’s purchases to their social accounts to create a more holistic profile of the individual. However, it becomes much more complex, and perhaps much scarier, than that.
“If my phone is regularly in the same GPS location as another phone, they take note of that,” he said. “They start reconstructing the web of people I’m in regular contact with. The advertisers can. This is a brief summary.