Do you ever feel like you’re being watched when there’s nobody else around?
Decades ago, if the answer to that question was ‘yes’, doctors might’ve advised you to see what they called a headshrinker. But technological progress has a funny way of turning situations on their head. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, everybody had horses – but only the wealthy had cars.
Today, everybody has a car: but only rich people have horses.
The same principle applies to surveillance: If you don’t believe you’re being spied on constantly, then you should probably have your head examined.
As advertisers hone increasingly sophisticated microtargeting techniques, ordinary social media users are reporting disturbing coincidences like the one Jen Lewis recounted to the Daily Mail.
While out shopping, Lewis and a friend discussed purchasing a film camera. Not 20 minutes later, Lewis’s friend checked Facebook on her phone and discovered, to her alarm, a targeted advertisement for the very same camera she had just considered purchasing.
Then, less than 20 minutes later, an advert popped up on Lois’s phone, for the exact same product. Same colour, same model, same everything.
‘They’re listening, they’re watching,’ she said.
‘Oh don’t be daft,’ I replied. ‘Who’s listening? Who’d want to listen to us?’
‘I’m serious,’ said Lois. ‘This keeps happening. This is no coincidence. Someone is listening to our conversations. Advertisers. They’re listening via our phones’ microphones.’
At first, Lewis didn’t understand what her friend was getting at. But it quickly dawned on her: Was Facebook recording their conversation and converting its content into fodder for targeted advertisements – all in real time?
‘Look at this,’ said Lois, presenting me with her smartphone, where an advert for a snazzy little instamatic camera was displayed. It had popped up a few seconds earlier, when she’d logged on to Instagram.
She met my quizzical ‘so what?’ face with exasperation.
What were we talking about? Just now? In the street, down there?’ she said.
Sure enough, we’d been window shopping before our lunch reservation, and spotted a little gadget shop. I remembered Lois had commented on the instamatic cameras on display (dropping a few hints for her forthcoming 21st birthday, I suspected).
We’d had a brief conversation about how they were all the rage in the Eighties, and how one of my memories of Christmas parties at my parents’ house was listening to that familiar ‘whirrr’ and watching the wealthier guests flapping about the instant photos, as everyone waited for them to dry.
Of course, Facebook and its fellow tech behemoths have vigorously denied claims that they utilize smartphone cameras and microphones to beef up their targeted advertising capabilities. But the battle for dominance in the digital advertising market is so fierce, it’s difficult to argue that the incentives don’t exist.
Lewis interviewed another individual who decided to test whether he was being spied on by advertisers by switching his phone’s microphone and camera off.
And sure enough, the creepy hypertargeted ads disappeared.
One Facebook user is so convinced his conversations are being monitored that he switched off the microphone on his smartphone — and, sure enough, there haven’t been any more ‘strange coincidences’ since.
Tom Crewe, 28, a marketing manager from Bournemouth, was immediately suspicious in March when he noticed an advert on Facebook for beard transplant surgery. Only hours earlier he’d joked with a colleague about them both getting one, as they remained smooth-faced, despite their age.
‘I had my phone’s Facebook app switched on at the time. Within a few hours, an ad came through for hair and beard transplants,’ he says.
‘I just thought: “Why have I been targeted?” I’d never Googled “hair or beard transplants” or sent an email to anyone about it or talked about it on Facebook.’
The fact that the ad for beard transplants was so unusual and specific made him suspect his phone had been eavesdropping.
He became convinced when later that month he received an advert to his phone — again weirdly and quite specifically — for Peperami sausages.
Of course, the notion that advertisers (to say nothing of the intelligence community) are recording our every keystroke to try and sell us stuff we don’t really need is something we, as a society, have grown eerily accustomed to. But the idea that these same entities are recording and filming us for their commercial benefit has, for many, yet to sink in. Of course, this reprehensible practice isn’t explicitly illegal, and as Lewis points out. If anything, most people inadvertently empower advertisers by blindly signing social media platforms’ “user agreements.”
Tracking users offline behavior is hardly a new phenomenon; earlier this year, we highlighted a recent announcement from Google that it would begin keeping tracking users’ in-store credit card purchases.
On the flip side, this arrangement is what allows us to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter without paying for them.
Still, imagine how these companies would react if people started demanding privacy and more control over their data?
Facebook Fired Pro-Trump & Anti Hillary Founder of Oculus
Every so often, Silicon Valley’s virtue-signaling, shadowbanning, anti-conservative media titans appear in Congress or devise a quick PR campaign to show to the world just how truly impartial they are with zero liberal bias. And every single time it backfires as their true ideological face quickly emerges from behind a fake, hypocritical mask.
Take the case of former Facebook executive, Oculus co-founder and virtual-reality wunderkind Palmer Luckey, who was a rising star of Silicon Valley when, at the height of the 2016 presidential contest, he donated a modest $10,000 to an anti-Hillary Clinton group. His donation sparked a backlash from his colleagues, which then led to him being put on leave, and six months later he was fired.
What is odd about Luckey’s termination, is that when testifying before Congress about data privacy earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg denied, or rather lied that the departure had anything to do with politics. In fact, neither Facebook nor Mr. Luckey ever said why he left the social-media giant.
Until now: according to a report from the WSJ, Luckey told people the reason for his termination from that bastion of apolitical impartiality Facebook, was his support for Donald Trump and the furor that his political beliefs sparked within his employer, and Silicon Valley, some of those people say.
Google & China Have A Program Linking Phone Numbers To Searches
A prototype of Google’s censored search engine for China links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, “thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people’s queries,” reports The Intercept.
The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, revolves around the Android platform and is designed to remove content deemed by government officials to be sensitive or offensive – such as information about protests, free speech, political dissidents, democracy and human rights violations.
Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.
the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing. The Chinese government has a record of manipulating details about pollution in the country’s cities. One Google source said the company had built a system, integrated as part of Dragonfly, that was “essentially hardcoded to force their [Chinese-provided] data.” -The Intercept
“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” says Human Rights Watch senior internet research Cynthia Wong. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”
Human rights groups have slammed Dragonfly, insisting that it could result in Google “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.”
“Legal Remedies” Coming For Tech Censorship?
Rep. Devin Nunes said he is looking at possible legal action against Twitter over the “shadow banning” fiasco that temporarily decreased the visibility he and other Republicans had on the social media platform.
Last week, Vice News reported that Nunes, along with several other conservative Republican figures, were harder to find on Twitter as their accounts did not show up on the auto-populated drop-down search box.
“It sure looks to me like they are censoring people and they ought to stop it. We are looking at any legal remedies to go through,” Nunes, R-Calif., said at the end of a Sunday morning interview on Fox News.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nunes’ comments follow a tweet by President Trump saying “We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once!”
Those GOP individuals who were effected by the “shadow banning” debacle didn’t completely disappear from Twitter — their profiles did appear when a full search was conducted — but they did express ire at what they said could be a politically charged maneuver to make it less convenient for users to find them. These GOP figures — Nunes, along with Reps. Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Mark Meadows, as well as Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel — felt the impact along with controversial right-wing figures, including Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.