Go ahead, I’m listening

By Denae Jones – 

Our family was driving home the other day, and our daughter’s friend was with us. They were showing us silly videos they made over Christmas break, and we had to laugh. This girl, who is so fun and smiles all the time when she is with us, is very different when she plays ball. During a ball game, the expression on her face looks like she’s going to punch someone out. He didn’t know her name until later in the season, so during the first few games my husband started referring to her as “Throat Punch.” We had a good laugh about it, and the subject was dropped. When we got home, he logged into his phone and an advertisement popped up. It was for a pink t-shirt that said ‘Just call me Throat Punch’ on the front. Coincidence? Or was his phone listening to our conversation? It’s not like that is a word we say very often. And when we do hear that said, it’s usually in the context of a self-defense conversation, not about a pretty pink shirt for a girl. It made me wonder.
After I thought about it, this isn’t the first time this has happened. We were talking about a certain pair of jeans in our work office, and that advertisement popped up. When we used to watch Parenthood on tv and the show ended, we started getting ads on our phones for the show called This Is Us, “based on your interest in Parenthood.” When did my phone and television start talking to each another?
I’ll preface this by saying I don’t know enough about technology to understand how all of this works, so I encourage you to do your own research. However, after I did some looking around, I wished I hadn’t. I found dozens of news articles describing many ways our phones, apps, laptops, tablets, smart tv’s, and even toys can sync to share information. That’s fine if we give them permission to sync and know what they are syncing for, but what about the things we don’t even know they are doing?
According to the research I found, apps and televisions have the ability to send out a sound that is recognized by our phone so it knows when we are there. And what we are doing. It tracks our internet searches, web use, and location. It can sense when we are alone and when we are with others by picking up the background noise and acoustics. It basically gets to know our habits so that marketing companies know what to market to us. Most of us didn’t sign up for all of that, so we have to be more aware of what we are doing. We give apps permission to do things we don’t understand all the time.
Most of us realize that GPS doesn’t work unless our location is turned on. So we turn it on. In many instances, it has been used for great good when someone was lost or hurt. But do we know or understand what else or who else is tapping into our location? For instance, I turn on my camera to take pictures. But now, every time I take a photo, my phone documents where it was taken. When my mom was on vacation and sent me pictures from Montana, I knew exactly where they were and could follow the path of their trip because it told me her location for each picture she sent. She had no idea it was doing that. Do we even know what other apps have access to our phones, and how they are being used?
We use the talk-to-text feature, because we can talk faster than we can type. So our microphone is on when we send a text. But who else are we giving permission to hear? In our case, it was apparently a t-shirt company who sells very specific types of shirts.
I know technology is used to do some great things, but I just don’t like when I feel like I’m being followed and listened to. I used to feel a little sorry for anyone listening in to my life because they would be bored to death. Not much excitement happening here! But it just feels like an invasion of privacy. We aren’t allowed to tap phones or search someone’s house without a warrant. So why aren’t there laws protecting our privacy through our phones?
It’s basically all about marketing. Well, I’ve got a great marketing idea. When we go to the store to purchase a phone, the customer service representative should give us the full disclosure. I can picture the conversation. “Here’s your phone with unlimited talk and text. Oh, and someone somewhere is able to watch you, hear you, follow you, track your television channels, sleeping times, know when you are with company or alone or in the bathroom, and basically learn all about the way you live. It’s not actually a phone. It’s a tracking device.” Would we still buy it? I doubt it.
I urge you to do some research for yourself. You might want to disable your microphone and camera in the settings when they are not in use, although I’m told some apps can override that. Talk to the tech person where you bought your phone and find out how to set the restrictions and controls that you are comfortable with.
Have a blessed week, friends!