Scene. You're having lunch with a pal and you ask her where she's going on her summer holiday. She says Marbella and asks you where you're heading. You say that you don't know, but that a work colleague went to Croatia last year and won't shut up about it. Lunch ends, you hop in a taxi back to work and open Facebook on your phone to pass the journey. Lo and behold, there's an ad for Croatia on your news feed. Although this is the first time that you've noticed this "coincidence" the reality is that it happens all the time.
Dr Peter Henway, a senior security consultant for cyber-security firm Asterisk told VICE magazine that keywords and phrases picked up by your phone can easily be accessed by third-party apps, like Facebook and Twitter. So when you chat about feeling hungry and say you want to order a takeout, or mention to your partner that the new Tarantino film is playing in the local cinema, the apps send the relevant ads to your timeline. It's not illegal either, though under the 1998 Data Protection Act, a person has to actively consent to their data being collected and used for advertisements. Facebook has repeatedly denied that it uses smartphone microphones to gather information for the purposes of targeted advertising. Facebook is lying although I can't prove it. It's highly likely that the technology needed to monitor millions of private conversations for repeated phrases or names already exists. The NSA, Mossad and Mi5 have been listening to our phone calls for decades so it's no great stretch of the imagination to think that they no longer need to listen to actual phone-calls, but can instead access our phones built-in microphones right?
It's interesting that VICE magazine and the security consultant focused on the marketing aspect of it. That's a nuisance alright, but in the grand scheme of things it's also irrelevant. This technology wasn't designed to tailor ads according to your personal interests, that's just an added bonus. This tech was designed to find out what you think and what you know, in other words to monitor your conversations for any indication that you might represent a threat to the establishment. The Home Office acknowledged last week that there are tens of thousands of "persons of interest" on so called Terror Watch Lists. How do you think they got those names? I'll tell you. Along with monitoring people's emails and their Facebook and Twitter posts, they are also accessing people's phones, even when the phone is not in use. You yourself might be on a Terror Watch List, because when you were talking with a friend at a bus stop last week, you expressed your belief that ISIS is a CIA/Mi6/Mossad creation and that Bashar al-Assad is not to blame for the situation in Syria! Boom! Someone heard that, a red flag went up and now you're on a watch list.
You can disable the microphone on your smartphone via settings but I don't trust it. You can still buy a basic old school phone that will only make/receive calls and send texts. Maybe that's the way to go. If I had children there is no way in hell that they would have a smart phone, no matter how much kicking and screaming they did. These are tyrannical times. How long before you find storm-troopers at your front door because you expressed an opinion in a private conversation, which was picked up by a third party accessing your phones microphone, an opinion deemed to be subversive and harmful to the state? Think that's a bit far fetched and the stuff of science-fiction? Think again, it's already here.