“Can I try the Cole Haans in a size 8?” Later that night on Facebook: An advertisement for Cole Haan pumps. OK, maybe a coincidence. “What’s the best high-tech scale?” my wife asks aloud. Five minutes later on Instagram: An ad for scales. Wait, are they listening? “Get the little red Sudafed pills,” my mom says after I sneeze. That afternoon: An advertisement for Sudafed PE. Yep, they’ve even wiretapped my bodily functions. A conspiracy theory has spread among Facebook and Instagram users: The company is tapping our microphones to target ads. It’s not. “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed,” says Facebook. Yeah, sure, and the government swears it isn’t keeping any pet aliens at Area 51. So I contacted former Facebook employees and various advertising technology experts, who all cited technical and legal reasons audio snooping isn’t possible. Uploading and scanning that much audio data “would strain even the resources of the NSA,” says former Facebook ad-targeting product manager Antonio Garcia Martinez. “They would need to understand the context of what you are saying—not just listen for words,” says Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook operations manager. I believe them, but for another reason: Facebook is now so good at watching what we do online—and even offline, wandering around the physical world—it doesn’t need to hear us.
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