"Facebook does not use your phone's microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed."
OK... so they are saying they don't use your microphone to target ads. But how about precisely enumerating how FB uses your microphone?
Do they use it for any purpose other than helping you communicate during a call?
Do they try to infer any persona information about you, which can then be used indirectly to make money from your data?
I too have had odd coincidences where eerily relevant ads show up after I have had a conversation. If only FB was more transparent about what they do, I might not be so paranoid about it.
I too have witnessed the uncanny ads, but not even from my own phone (I don't have Facebook on my phone). A friend mentioned a particular restaurant I have never been to, been near, or searched for.
I can only assume my friend's conversation was geo-tagged either by my phone (android, no non-system mic access), or the data was combined on the server end to place both of us at the same place / same time, and used his recording to market to me.
I'd also like to note, the 'amount of bandwidth needed' is almost nothing by today's standards. Not to mention it can wait to transmit that data until on wifi. 8khz audio (telephone quality) is just kilobytes per second. A reasonably unsophisticated algorithm could trim the audio for an highs and lows (IE, statistically, sound below or above some dB threshold is trimmed because it won't be useful) and uploaded. We're talking about just a few kb per conversation.
Of course, the Facebook app is a memory, storage, and cpu hog (IMO), so I don't think it's unreasonable that given today's modern phone hardware some word recognition software may be present on devices themselves.
So i was walking with co-workers for coffee and somehow we talked about a college. Now i can assure you that i have never ever searched for that college and i didn't even know it existed before that conversation took place. And 30 mins later, i'm browsing instagram at work and there is an ad of the said college. If this isn't creepy af, i dunno what is.
These kind of events happen by chance and have been happening well before almost everyone started carrying mobile recording devices in their pockets and even pre-internet.
I have no doubt that advertisers would love to have that kind of insight but I can't help but feel that the anecdote of the form, we talked about A and A showed up X minutes later, is too easily explain by coincidence. How many topics were discussed, how many ads were shown? When I read something like this I imagine the anecdote should read more along the lines of how we talked about A, B, C, D, E and F and among the dozen or so ads I saw afterwords one of them was topic A! Can you believe it? And yes, yes I can, that is a pretty neat coincidence.
On the other hand if out of all 6 of the topics discussed all of the ads that were shown afterward were related to them, maybe not all, but more than one or two. That sounds like there is something fishy going on.
I don't mean to single out this particular example, it was to be a simple comment that had more to say. So, thank you for the inspiration!
The most blatant I've experienced was on the Wii U. The controller with the screen powers up and shows ads for new games every now and then. We actually had a bit of fun with it, casually talking about new games and guess what happened. An ad for that particular game was shown. I'm 100% certain now, that it happens with smartphones as well.
I thought that was some great scheme made by the adults.
Turns out, it isn't. Just everyday life coincidences. Reinforced by the global rythm of social life.
College ads are more likely to appear in the periods when people talk about college.
But to really answer this question, we could build a better experiment. Write out a set of topics on index cards. You have to be careful that topics aren't new product rollouts (otherwise you really have to think about how you decided to write that topic down in the first place). Draw a card, don't talk about or search the topic for some amount of time, then inject the topic where it might be observed (talk about it and/or search for it somewhere), then for some amount of time, see if it comes up.
And have a control group that you simply don't bring up at all. Make sure to have more than one, so that you still have more remaining if someone around you brings up one of your control topics.
"We were talking about new games and I got and ad for a new game!" sounds like pretty standard, non-targeted advertising. Easily chalked up to coincidence. Steam advertises new games to me, some I'm interested in and some I'm not, but I don't think Steam is reading my brainwaves.
How many Wii U games are there anyway?
Would you expect the Wii U to do some sort of correlation (other people that own the same games A & B also own C, so you're probably interested in C)?
Also, let's say what you are saying is true. How come ad decides to show up 30mins - 60 mins after conversation takes place?
* the "somehow we talked about a college" is because someone else at coffee was looking at something college related and it was recently on their mind so they brought it up. You're associated with those people, so ad agency it decides to show you an ad. It may do this a lot, but the times it actually works really stick out to you.
* After the coffee, one or more people search or perform actions associated with that college. Ad agency knows you were recently meeting with them so decides to show you some associated ad.
Keep in mind that the ad agencies, whether Facebook or Google or some lesser known but still large one, have their own profiles of you and who you associate with.
I think Occam's razor holds that since we know there are multiple agencies tracking what you do and who you do it with online and that can conceivably be used to explain most of this, it's a much more likely explanation than a large company outright lying in a way that would have a horrendous backlash if proven (and it's not really that hard to prove if people got serious).
Edit: whoops, not that hard to prove...
Wedding rings have an EXTREMELY high margin, and almost infinite budget for advertising. If you google rings once, you will continue seeings ads for YEARS, regardless of any conversations you have.
Honestly if Facebook knows you are in a relationship for 3+ years and you are under 35, you are going to start seeing ads for engagement rings even without searching for anything.
If you really think they are getting you through the microphone, start talking to your phone without anyone around, while browsing Facebook about Baby Diapers, Baby Formula, and Baby Toys. Don't search for anything baby related, and obviously use something else if you are a Father already.
My favorite is when you finally buy something and they still show you ads. Like a coworker mentioned, if I buy a refrigerator I don't need another one... I have one house! Come on! Maybe they do it in case you change your mind? Who knows how these ad companies think.
The only way for them to know you have purchased a product is if you buy it online and get hit with the confirmation tracking pixel on the checkout page.
Most people see ads for a fridge, but then go into a physical store to make and finance the large purchase.
The ad-placement folks have technology and patents and millions tied up in all that. And what do they come up with? "Show ads for what they just bought"
The "fridge store" is doing a pixel based retargeting list, which is easy to take you off when the purchase is made.
But they also might have a list of 'customers likely to purchase a fridge' from Google searches that you are being served ads to as well. You might be on a 'look-a-like' list from Facebook, because people in your demographic tend to buy new fridges. You could be removed from that list if Google shared the IP addresses of everyone on their list, but at a serious cost to your privacy. These walled gardens are ultimately good, but result in a ton of advertising inefficacy.
I know its annoying but the advertisers are smart enough... we don't actually want them getting any better than they are now.
Facebook is not a trustworthy company, so I have a hard time believing them about this. But it's why I don't install ANY Facebook applications on my phone anymore and that includes Messenger and Instagram, or any other company they purchase.
Remember when Target got into hot water for outing a pregnant teenager based on an assortment of items she bought ? That was based on items like scent-free soap, cotton balls, and vitamin supplements.
That was 6 years ago and (no offense to Target) done by a company that isn't nearly as adept at doing that kind of targeted advertising or inference.
For example, Facebook might know (hypothetically) that you're a young adult in the tech field who lives in Brooklyn and spends a lot of time looking at photography or you're friends with a lot of amateur photographers. So they show you ads for high-end cameras from the most popular vendors, knowing that you're likely to develop an interest in photography if you haven't already.
That's just an extremely simple example, you can imagine that there are far more subtle indicators about someone's interests or likely interests (like the cotton balls for pregnancy).
The timing is almost certainly a coincidence. It's far more likely they show you those ads all the time and you're just noticing them when the coincidence occurs because you're on high alert now for things like this.
> I've had discussions with people about things I've never searched for or purchased
That doesn't mean his network hasn't been searching for or purchasing those things or leaving behind other breadcrumbs... which is probably enough for Facebook to guess you're a decent candidate for the ads.
I just wouldn't be shocked if it was a coincidence as well, or something else driving it.
For example, the company mentioned in the OP could be something mentioned in the news recently or in a hot market position right now.
In which case, it's not bizarre that you might see ads for them on FB as well.
I think the example another person gave is almost just as creepy -- your friends influencing your own advertisements. That means that what your friends are searching for, private (embarrassing) things, could potentially leak over to you.
I'm pretty aware of the fact that if I go looking for socks, I'm going to start getting sock advertisements on almost every page I go with advertisements, on both Google and Facebook. I don't find that creepy, just dumb and ineffective because it usually starts well past the time I already bought the socks.
1) Aware of construction happening close to your place of employment (in any number of ways that doesn't require any super advanced knowledge)
2) Knows that people usually start to get fed up with construction noises after X days
3) Started showing you popular co-working spaces as a result
Or, as you noted, your co-workers started searching for co-working spaces and Facebook picks up on that and assumes something is happening in your office such that other people might also be interested in co-working spaces. Creepy, sure. But doesn't require clandestine recording and parsing conversations.
Or, even simpler than that: I see WeWork advertisements all the time despite never discussing them. It's not really that insane to think that places like WeWork might just be targeting your demographic and that's why you saw the advertisement.
Anyway point being, none of these explanations require Facebook to record you.
That being said, that's totally based on just a hunch and I have no real data to back up that assertion so I could easily be wrong.
With the amount of data that's floating out there about you and your friends, these coincidences are way, way more likely, and are very reasonable if you think about it.
Your friend told you about some restaurant, and then an ad shows up on Facebook.
Why is your friend telling you about it? Maybe he went there recently enough? Maybe he gave the restaurant a review? Maybe the restaurant has a list of people who've been to the restaurant before and is using Facebook ad manager to target those people and their friends? It's on his mind, so maybe that's causing him to leave enough breadcrumbs behind to make Facebook have an inkling of his interest, and you're his friend so Facebook knows to perhaps nudge you as well. And maybe Facebook actually has some idea that you and that person are meeting (yay geotracking!)
Now add a prediction system driven by deep learning models that are terrifyingly good at finding signal with a decent dose of probability (think of all the conversations you've had that didn't result in eery advertising), and you've got yourself a frightening reality where a company doesn't need your thoughts to make a decent guess about what you're thinking.
Frankly it might not even be this complicated. Maybe your network searching for or purchasing things is enough for Facebook to guess you're a decent candidate for the ad too, and you guys just happen to meet up on the same day.