Instagram is listening to you
Damián Le Nouaille

There are hundreds of companies that track us online. I don’t believe that Instagram on iOS is recording you at all times.

You saw one ad about a topic you talked about hours before. How many ads do you see per day? A lot. But you don’t remember most of them because you don’t care about them. But in this case you were interested in the advertised product and as a result the ad stood out. This doesn’t mean that it was targeted at you because you talked about it. Only that you are in the general target audience of the product.

I tracked down the ad you saw. I am not sure if it is the same, but at least the same video and text. On Facebook. 4,4m views and 16k reactions while the page has only 80k likes. This isn’t some well targeted campaign but a rather broad one. You say about yourself that you are interested in technology. To whom does the product appeal? What would you enter as a marketer? People with a smartphone, who are interested in technology and speak English? Or would you reduce it to people who know that wireless, handheld projectors exist? They probably targeted rather broad.

There is a whole industry specialized in finding trending products and creating ads for them. Ideally they know what will be hot next. Most of them neither produce nor touch the product at any time. It’s called dropshipping. In this case they sell it for $140 and ship worldwide (shipping fee excluded). The wholesale price is below $80. They can spend $40 or more per sale and still make a profit. If you search for cube mini projector, you will find many different products which look nearly the same. Some have a custom cover, but the tech specs make it clear that they are the same product on the inside. All of these companies do the same thing. They try to find you. And Facebook (Instagram Ads are created through Facebook) gives them the same tools. They allow to target by certain criteria. You can see most of the stuff Facebook knows about you here. You will probably find several things which a marketer could use to target you without knowing about your conversation.

Some more things:

  • If Instagram is able to run and record audio in the background, do you think the iOS privacy settings would stop them?
  • Instagram needs access to the microphone for videos (and especially stories).
  • Transcribing 24h of audio locally or remote isn’t feasible today if you don’t believe the person is planning some evil crime.
  • You would experience much more battery loss.
  • Facebook has enough data on you. Listening to your audio only opens them up for being destroyed by lawsuits.
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