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Old 09-27-2019, 06:40 AM
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Does Google Eavesdrop Through Android Phones?


So here's what's got me wondering:

The other day, about five days ago, a couple of friends and I had a conversation about Joshua Tree National Monument, and our experiences there, and about desert camping in general, the area around Joshua Tree, etc., etc. Just a conversation, over beers, with no particular focus (eventually the talk of Joshua Tree led to talk about Gram Parsons, country-rock music, Parsons' relationship with and influence on the Rolling Stones, and so on. You know how it goes).

During this whole conversation, my cell phone was on the table. It was never used. I did not google anything. I didn't make or receive any calls. It was just there. On, but not used.

A few days later, my Google news feed began to include stories about the area. It even began to include completely irrelevant (to me) stories from local papers and/or television stations (from, for example, Twenty-Nine Palms).

I also began to see ads for area hotels.

This wasn't an example of the Baader-Meinhof effect. I'm sure of it.

I can think of no explanation other than that Google uses Android phones to monitor conversations. I know they read Gmail messages. I would love for there to be another explanation, but I can't think of one.

Anyone have any thoughts? Does Google eavesdrop on us?
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Old 09-27-2019, 06:52 AM
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Here, try this: How Google is secretly recording you through your mobile, monitoring millions of conversations

From that article:
Quote:
How can I listen back to the audio Google has recorded from my phone?

It’s pretty easy.

Unlike Apple, who does not publicise any of the voice data it stores through Siri, Google is pretty transparent — giving you full access to your audio.

First, you’ll need to be signed into your Gmail or Google account.

Once you’ve done that, type “history.google.com/history” into your web browser.

You’ll be taken to a hub which contains your entire digital footprint, so be careful, it could make for some grim reading.
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Old 09-27-2019, 08:28 AM
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Went there. Didn't see any secret recordings. Only recordings I specifically asked Google.


Anyway, I was watching "The Great Hack" on Netflix. On the documentary, the had a guy who teaches classes about protecting your online identity. He asked the class: "Raise your hand if you think your phone has ever eavesdropped on you". The whole class raised there hand.

He went on to explain that it's not actually eavesdropping on you. I think he called it "predictive advertising". They mine all your online data and feed it into an algorithm, and it can predict with stunning accuracy what you're going to be into next.

He went on to say: "The fact that you think your phone is eavesdropping on you, just goes to show how good it works".
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Old 09-27-2019, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Grrr! View Post
Went there. Didn't see any secret recordings. Only recordings I specifically asked Google.


Anyway, I was watching "The Great Hack" on Netflix. On the documentary, the had a guy who teaches classes about protecting your online identity. He asked the class: "Raise your hand if you think your phone has ever eavesdropped on you". The whole class raised there hand.

He went on to explain that it's not actually eavesdropping on you. I think he called it "predictive advertising". They mine all your online data and feed it into an algorithm, and it can predict with stunning accuracy what you're going to be into next.

He went on to say: "The fact that you think your phone is eavesdropping on you, just goes to show how good it works".
Agreed. The bandwidth for nonstop audio from every Android phone would be astronomical. And yes, the predictive advertising is even creepier. There was a pretty notorious case not so long ago wherein Target knew a teenaged girl was pregnant before her father did.

My best guess for the events in the OP would be that, even though the OPer didn't search for anything around Joshua Tree, one or more of the others in the conversation did, and being friends, Google/Facebook figured there was an affinity there. I would also guess that the OPer, having been to Joshua Tree during (I'm guessing, here) the internet era, had left some data crumbs behind (credit card purchases, cellphone GPS data, whatever), confirming the social-circle-affinity.

Or maybe I'm way off base. It'd be interesting to hear what data the OPer finds in their Google profile.
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by mjmlabs View Post
My best guess for the events in the OP would be that, even though the OPer didn't search for anything around Joshua Tree, one or more of the others in the conversation did, and being friends, Google/Facebook figured there was an affinity there. I would also guess that the OPer, having been to Joshua Tree during (I'm guessing, here) the internet era, had left some data crumbs behind (credit card purchases, cellphone GPS data, whatever), confirming the social-circle-affinity.

.
That's exactly what I was thinking.
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:08 AM
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Google can know so much more about you as a consumer through your browsing (if you use Chrome) and Gmail (if you use it) than it could ever garner through your conversations. The way people talk in ordinary conversational discourse requires a high level of analysis to become useful, from Google's point of view. The topic of a conversation, for example, might only be implied--understood from context Google doesn't have, and never explicitly stated--while other words would create all kinds of "distractions." "Eavesdropping" in the ordinary sense would be not be useful to Google.
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:26 AM
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Agreed. The bandwidth for nonstop audio from every Android phone would be astronomical. And yes, the predictive advertising is even creepier. There was a pretty notorious case not so long ago wherein Target knew a teenaged girl was pregnant before her father did.
Maybe not all phones all the time, but the recent revelations of Amazon holding recordings from its Alexa systems, leaves me in little doubt that there is some level of monitoring going on.
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Old 09-27-2019, 09:32 AM
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Try asking Alexa if she sends data to the FBI/CIA/NSA.
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Old 09-27-2019, 12:24 PM
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I'm being you recurve those suggestions due to having yuppie location services on. I find that after I've been in a particular area I'll get suggestions from Google referencing specific businesses I've been near.
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Old 09-27-2019, 12:37 PM
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A few days later, my Google news feed began to include stories about the area. It even began to include completely irrelevant (to me) stories from local papers and/or television stations (from, for example, Twenty-Nine Palms).

I also began to see ads for area hotels.
Di you click any of those initial links? While Google is pretty smart, it can also be pretty stupid. For example, there's been times where I've searched for a band. The next day, I'll get a story of that band doing a concert in say, Austin, TX. Now, Google thinks I'm interested in Austin TX and start giving me stories from there even though I never searched for it in the first place.
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Old 09-27-2019, 12:47 PM
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Did you know that the people behind Gore Tex have published a book and it is available for your kindle?

I did. My kindle told me. Coincidentally my gf is working on their advertising and we've been discussing Gore Tex recently.
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Old 09-27-2019, 12:52 PM
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I'm being you recurve those suggestions due to having yuppie location services on. I find that after I've been in a particular area I'll get suggestions from Google referencing specific businesses I've been near.
He wasn't near it.
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Old 09-27-2019, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by mjmlabs View Post
My best guess for the events in the OP would be that, even though the OPer didn't search for anything around Joshua Tree, one or more of the others in the conversation did, and being friends, Google/Facebook figured there was an affinity there. I would also guess that the OPer, having been to Joshua Tree during (I'm guessing, here) the internet era, had left some data crumbs behind (credit card purchases, cellphone GPS data, whatever), confirming the social-circle-affinity.
I've been to Joshua Tree during the internet era (depending on how you're defining that, I guess), but not in 15 years or more.

I don't have, and have never had, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a LinkedIn account, or anything like that. I didn't search for anything related to Joshua Tree, and at least one participant in that conversation (using an iPhone) has confirmed to me that he didn't either.

I also haven't mentioned Joshua Tree in email (Gmail) in years, nor has anyone mentioned it to me.

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Originally Posted by obbn View Post
I'm being you recurve those suggestions due to having yuppie location services on. I find that after I've been in a particular area I'll get suggestions from Google referencing specific businesses I've been near.
"Yuppie"? Ok, whatever, but you don't know me at all. In any event, location is always off on my phone, I don't give any apps access to my location, and I haven't been to Joshua Tree in 15 years anyway.

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Originally Posted by enalzi View Post
Di you click any of those initial links? While Google is pretty smart, it can also be pretty stupid. For example, there's been times where I've searched for a band. The next day, I'll get a story of that band doing a concert in say, Austin, TX. Now, Google thinks I'm interested in Austin TX and start giving me stories from there even though I never searched for it in the first place.
I did click on a link to a local television station in Twenty-Nine Palms, because the story seemed interesting. But that was days after the conversation.

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He wasn't near it.
Exactly.
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Old 09-27-2019, 03:19 PM
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I feel like this topic comes up every month and it never gets settled.

Two problems:
1) We don't know your entire internet history to be able to make the same connections that Google is making.
2) As far as I know, there is no real evidence of Google listening to conversations, saving the data, and using that data to push you related items.

So eventually, the topic devolves into a bunch people giving similar anecdotes with no real cites.

Now you said this:
Quote:
eventually the talk of Joshua Tree led to talk about Gram Parsons, country-rock music, Parsons' relationship with and influence on the Rolling Stones, and so on
Did your Google news feed suddenly start including stories about Gram Parsons, country-rock music, and Parsons' relationship with and influence on the Rolling Stones?
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:03 PM
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Did you know that the people behind Gore Tex have published a book and it is available for your kindle?

I did. My kindle told me. Coincidentally my gf is working on their advertising and we've been discussing Gore Tex recently.
But apparently Google didn't tell you the right form is "GORE-TEX".
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:13 PM
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Smart assistants can save what you asked them for, because they have that. A phone or whatever isn't powerful enough to be able to reliably process the full range of spoken language. So it has just enough to recognize "OK Google" or "Hey Siri", or whatever your device's activation phrase is, and then once it gets that, sends the full sound recording to the cloud servers to process. So the servers have that audio.

But it'd cost way too much bandwidth to always send all audio, and even more processing power to do anything with it. So they don't do that.
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:17 PM
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My best guess for the events in the OP would be that, even though the OPer didn't search for anything around Joshua Tree, one or more of the others in the conversation did, and being friends, Google/Facebook figured there was an affinity there. I would also guess that the OPer, having been to Joshua Tree during (I'm guessing, here) the internet era, had left some data crumbs behind (credit card purchases, cellphone GPS data, whatever), confirming the social-circle-affinity.
Yeah, this is what Google did, although, probably even more so.

Because Google doesn't just know that you're friends with the person who searched for something related. If any of those friends carries an Android phone or has Google apps installed on their non-Android phones with location data access, they know that you and your friends got together right before one of them searched for something about Joshua Tree.

Note that it's pretty easy to test this.

Find a physical atlas (like, don't go look stuff up on the internet) and turn to a random page. Talk about that location in a room where your Android phone is present. Do a few of 'em. Do you start seeing any ads for those locations? My guess is: no.

Similarly, next time you get together with friends, ask them if they'll do you a favor. Assign them each a random location to do some searches on later. See if you start seeing any ads for those locations. My guess is you will.
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:29 PM
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Last week I worked with someone I hardly ever work with anymore. Twenty years ago we worked together a lot. So last week we were reminiscing about people we used to work with. The next day on Facebook there were two friend suggestions for people we had mentioned. They had never shown up there before. I certainly didn't do any search for them.

I have an android but never use OK Google. I actually seldom search for anything on my phone.

The ONLY reasonable explanation that I can think of is that my friend searched for those people and Facebook/Google/whatever made the connection that we were physically close the evening before.

ETA As I was typing this the similar story above was being posted.

Last edited by steatopygia; 09-27-2019 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 09-27-2019, 04:42 PM
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Did your Google news feed suddenly start including stories about Gram Parsons, country-rock music, and Parsons' relationship with and influence on the Rolling Stones?
That's a good question, and the answer is yes. I might not have noticed that as exceptional, I guess, but the hotel ads and news stories from local sources were definitely exceptional.
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Old 09-27-2019, 11:32 PM
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A phone or whatever isn't powerful enough to be able to reliably process the full range of spoken language. So it has just enough to recognize "OK Google" or "Hey Siri", or whatever your device's activation phrase is, and then once it gets that, sends the full sound recording to the cloud servers to process.
Modern smartphones are, in fact, powerful enough. On-device dictation has worked just fine on iPhones, for example, for years. That goes way beyond simple activation phrases.
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Old 09-27-2019, 11:49 PM
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My own creepy Android anecdote: A few months ago, I had a stiff neck. I asked my wife if we had any of that Biofreeze left. She said yes. Within 30 minutes, for the first time ever, an ad for Biofreeze came up on my Facebook feed. I have never searched for anything related to Biofreeze on my phone or laptop, and I asked my wife if she had (she hadn't.) No ads for Biofreeze have shown up since that one time.
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Old 09-28-2019, 03:13 PM
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Modern smartphones are, in fact, powerful enough. On-device dictation has worked just fine on iPhones, for example, for years. That goes way beyond simple activation phrases.
Dictation isn't doing the kind of language processing smart assistants do, though.

I am in complete agreement with enalzi. Claims of always-on audio monitoring are universally based on someone seeing an ad, without any consideration of confirmation bias or coincidence. Meanwhile, the lack of actual evidence like constant voice-bandwidth data streams from devices, debug information on the device showing a process continually reading from the microphone, the high battery drain that would be associated with those activities, or the fact it would be massively illegal to conduct such audio monitoring are not considered or disregarded. As a factual matter, I am quite comfortable stating Google, Facebook, et al. do not perform always-on audio recording.

Last edited by Cleophus; 09-28-2019 at 03:15 PM.
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Old 09-28-2019, 05:33 PM
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Dictation isn't doing the kind of language processing smart assistants do, though.
The way he phrased it made me think that wasn't what he was talking about but I guess it could be.
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Old 09-28-2019, 07:38 PM
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With the proper software, a full time stream of audio going to google/amazon/FB would be as obvious to skilled networking types as firing a flare gun in a darkened theatre.

There are people/companies who actually do this kind of network analysis for a living, and have looked for it. Its not there.

That said, as network bandwidth climbs and mobile device processing power keeps climbing, such things will become more practical, but its not going to change the legality, or the visibility to tech types who know what they are looking for.
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Old 09-29-2019, 02:31 AM
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I'm being you recurve those suggestions due to having yuppie location services on.
I think it might be worth noting that there were three pretty-obvious autocorrect goofs here; should have been, I presume:

I'm betting you received those suggestions due to having your location services on.
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Old 09-29-2019, 10:29 AM
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i wonder about this topic from time to time. i don't think amazon has a room full of humans listening to us go about our days, but could they be transcribing conversations to text for later use?

first of all how does alexa know when you say "alexa.."? is she always listening and if so where do all the phrases that do not start with "alexa" go? instant delete? or is there a software cache that keeps it for a few minutes locally?
*tin foil hat on* could it be saved to an encrypted text file that looks like something else that's useful to the device?


how about this. i don't know much about how this works but could it go something like this?

speech to text dictation is getting pretty good, so it would be easy for alexa to save everything you say to a text file with a decent degree of accuracy. at least enough accuracy to parse what you're talking about if key words are flagged for review. in the code there's an if/then.. if device hears and writes "alexa" to the text file, then the device interacts with humans. otherwise the device just sits there mute.

would it be possible for alexa to save everything said in the room to a text file and have the text file occasionally upload as part of the usual traffic? this way the eavesdropper is not sending massive amounts of audio data, just some text/code that won't raise any eyebrows.

back on the eavesdropper's server, the text files are scanned for keywords and nefarious actions are taken by 'them'.
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Old 09-29-2019, 11:27 AM
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I've had odd experiences like this. One anecdotal example:


One of my coworkers was streaming music from his phone through the Bluetooth speaker we have. He was streaming 1980s pop music that day, and the song, "Video Killed the Radio Star" came on, and I mentioned that I hadn't heard that song in years.


After work, at home, I visited YouTube, and there was the video for that song, front and center in my recommendations. It was particularly strange because I almost exclusively watch videos from modern metal bands, so "Video Killed the Radio Star" couldn't have been even closely considered a "related" video.


This has since happened with other songs, from other artists I would not normally seek out on YouTube, but happened to be streamed by one of my coworkers.

Last edited by Mister Rik; 09-29-2019 at 11:27 AM.
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Old 09-29-2019, 11:38 AM
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i wonder about this topic from time to time. i don't think amazon has a room full of humans listening to us go about our days, but could they be transcribing conversations to text for later use?

first of all how does alexa know when you say "alexa.."? is she always listening and if so where do all the phrases that do not start with "alexa" go? instant delete? or is there a software cache that keeps it for a few minutes locally?
*tin foil hat on* could it be saved to an encrypted text file that looks like something else that's useful to the device?
For everyday purposes, none of these companies have humans listening. This is what AI is for. However, in order to make the programs better, a tiny fraction of interactions are checked by humans to see how well the software is doing to make adjustments. Some providers allow you to opt out of that.

One reason there are trigger words/phrases to initiate an action is that the devices can be set up to locally recognize the trigger. Note that generally one cannot set any phrase you like since this requires processing at the cloud end to set up and the device might not work well with the new data from that.

So an Amazon has only 4 options: Alexa, Computer, Echo and Amazon. Here's an article about some of the issues involved in going to a cloud-based wake system.

Keep in mind that a lot of these devices are incredibly simple. There is nowhere near the processing capability to do dictation. You need a decent phone or computer for that. My Amazon Wand is so simple it can't even handle a wake word. You have to push a button and then start talking. Ditto Alexa enabled Fire TV remotes.

For always on devices, yes, the device is listening. No, it is not recording. As the bits come in from the microphone, it does a match for the wake word. Anything not matching goes into the bit bucket about as fast as it comes in. (It's not tecnhically "deleted". It gets overwritten by whatever comes in next.) Only when there is a match does it send the audio stream to a cloud server which does the real work. Again, no reason to save anything locally.
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Old 09-29-2019, 09:26 PM
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My phone and computer ads predict with stunning accuracy things that I have just bought. They offer them again and again.

But, about a year ago I was suffering from weepy eyes and sniffles, while browsing. And the next day I started getting dropdown ads for allergy relief and eye drops.

Yes, it was allergy season (for me, actually, though, this can be any season). But I put a piece of tape over my laptop camera and it's been there ever since. Because that was just freaky.

Last edited by Hilarity N. Suze; 09-29-2019 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 09-29-2019, 09:52 PM
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For the people saying the bandwidth would be a problem, the full audio for your conversation is already passing through a server somewhere. What if it's just being stored on that server, and Google is paying to data-mine it?
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Old 09-29-2019, 10:03 PM
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For the past two days I've been trying to get my Android phone to listen to me talking, and then manifest some kind of ad to show that it's been listening. Every hour or so I say, "I really could use some new shoes. Where should I look for shoes? Where could I find some good walking shoes?" And: "Man, I'd could go for some ice cream--like Ben and Jerry's. Where can I get some Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

So far, nothing has come up. Nothing about shoes, nothing about ice cream. If Google had a blanket practice of listening to EVERY conversation, regardless of the person, regardless of browsing history, then they're not getting anything out of it with me.
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Old 09-29-2019, 10:53 PM
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Good way to tell if you're haunted, too.
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Old 09-29-2019, 11:26 PM
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For the past two days I've been trying to get my Android phone to listen to me talking, and then manifest some kind of ad to show that it's been listening. Every hour or so I say, "I really could use some new shoes. Where should I look for shoes? Where could I find some good walking shoes?" And: "Man, I'd could go for some ice cream--like Ben and Jerry's. Where can I get some Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

So far, nothing has come up. Nothing about shoes, nothing about ice cream. If Google had a blanket practice of listening to EVERY conversation, regardless of the person, regardless of browsing history, then they're not getting anything out of it with me.
My husband and I recently tried something similar. We decided to loudly discuss frozen yogurt, pilates, and I think one other topic we definitely never searched for, with our Android phones out. We made sure to use those key words repeatedly, and as many related words as we could think of. We waited months, but the froyo/pilates/whatever ads never materialized.
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Old 09-30-2019, 12:33 AM
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For the people saying the bandwidth would be a problem, the full audio for your conversation is already passing through a server somewhere. What if it's just being stored on that server, and Google is paying to data-mine it?
We're not talking about telephone calls; we're talking about cell phones eavesdropping on IRL conversations.

Now, the telephone calls ... well, that's a whole 'nother ball of Snowden/NSA/PRISM/PanOpticon paranoia, so let's leave that be for now. But it's always been prudent not to put any information into a phone call/telegram/email/text that you wouldn't want to see on the front page.

ETA: "The front page" refers to an archaic information-delivery system known as a "newspaper," which apparently involved a great number of dead trees somehow.

Last edited by mjmlabs; 09-30-2019 at 12:35 AM.
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Old 09-30-2019, 12:08 PM
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It wouldn't have to upload continuous streams, just sporadically save words it overhears and upload them in one brief burst every once in a while. That would also be consistent with the "sometimes it seems to know, sometimes it doesn't" stories we're getting.
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Old 09-30-2019, 12:27 PM
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For the people saying the bandwidth would be a problem, the full audio for your conversation is already passing through a server somewhere. What if it's just being stored on that server, and Google is paying to data-mine it?
This is possible, but it's really unlikely for a few reasons.

For one, the number of people required to build and run such a system would be pretty large. Conspiracies happen, but the successful ones are often pretty short-lived and involve just a handful of people. I'm going to say that at least one of the dozens or hundreds of engineers required to build a system that did this and funnel all the voice data around would have some misgivings about such a thing and go public. Or one of the thousands of security researchers that might stumble upon such evidence.

The PR hit Google would take would be disastrous. I'm not saying that companies always act in their long-term self-interest, but this would be such a horrendous misstep that it kind of strains credibility that they would do this.

And, as pointed out here: they don't need to do it. You actually can't learn anything that interesting about people by recording their phone conversations that you can't infer from the piles and piles of data that we provide in other contexts.

Again: there are really easy ways to test this theory. Talk about something around your phone but don't search for it (and make sure your friends don't search for it) and see if ads show up. They won't.
  #37  
Old 09-30-2019, 01:53 PM
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Google knows where you are all the time. Even if you turn off location services, it still knows where you are based on the wifi networks that are available to your phone, even if you don't connect to them. It knows who your friends are because you email them or have them in your phone contact lists. Google thus knows when you are meeting with your friends in real life. If after the meeting, Google sees that someone Googles or emails about some destination, it rightly or wrongly assumes you may have been talking about that destination and starts serving you ads for that destination. Sometimes, it will guess wrong. I might have dinner with friends and then start researching a trip to visit my in-laws without ever mentioning the trip to my friends. My friends might start seeing ads for sunny California but they won;t have any clue that they are getting the ads because of my search history, so it won't stand out as confirmation that "Google is recording our conversation all the time!"

The critical thing to realize is that it's only marginally less creepy that Google knows the content of our conversation without needing to listen to us.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
Did you know that the people behind Gore Tex have published a book and it is available for your kindle?

I did. My kindle told me. Coincidentally my gf is working on their advertising and we've been discussing Gore Tex recently.
Any chance that she searched for GoreTex online? The most obvious route to me is that she searched Amazon for Gore Tex, whether at work or at home. The computer or phone that she used has also connected at one time or another connected to her Amazon account, so it knows who she is. Some other device that she uses has also connected to your home network. I could anthropomorphize what Amazon "thinks" here, by saying things like "Amazon knows your wife is searching for Gore Tex and it thinks you might want to buy her a Gore Tex present." Of course, computers don't really think like that. What Amazon really knows is that when someone searches for Gore Tex, Amazon makes more money when it starts serving up ads for Gore Tex to everyone with a close tie to that person. A person who lives with her is about as close as they come.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saintly Loser View Post
I've been to Joshua Tree during the internet era (depending on how you're defining that, I guess), but not in 15 years or more.

I don't have, and have never had, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a LinkedIn account, or anything like that. I didn't search for anything related to Joshua Tree, and at least one participant in that conversation (using an iPhone) has confirmed to me that he didn't either.

I also haven't mentioned Joshua Tree in email (Gmail) in years, nor has anyone mentioned it to me.
Quote:
Originally Posted by mjmlabs View Post
My best guess for the events in the OP would be that, even though the OPer didn't search for anything around Joshua Tree, one or more of the others in the conversation did, and being friends, Google/Facebook figured there was an affinity there. I would also guess that the OPer, having been to Joshua Tree during (I'm guessing, here) the internet era, had left some data crumbs behind (credit card purchases, cellphone GPS data, whatever), confirming the social-circle-affinity.

Or maybe I'm way off base. It'd be interesting to hear what data the OPer finds in their Google profile.
Saintly Loser, you probably have your friends' contact info in your phone, thus stored in Google's servers. Or, even if you don't, they probably have your contact information stored in their phones, and thus saved in Google's servers. Google knows who your friends are even if you don't touch social media. And any of your friends searching for, emailing, watching videos, etc. about Joshua Tree after the conversation will trigger the ads for you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by steatopygia View Post
Last week I worked with someone I hardly ever work with anymore. Twenty years ago we worked together a lot. So last week we were reminiscing about people we used to work with. The next day on Facebook there were two friend suggestions for people we had mentioned. They had never shown up there before. I certainly didn't do any search for them.

I have an android but never use OK Google. I actually seldom search for anything on my phone.

The ONLY reasonable explanation that I can think of is that my friend searched for those people and Facebook/Google/whatever made the connection that we were physically close the evening before.
Exactly. Do you both have the Facebook app on your phone? Facebook knows where you are and when you are together. A meeting followed by your colleague's search for these old acquaintances was enough for Facebook to think you might be interested in them too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Lendervedder View Post
My own creepy Android anecdote: A few months ago, I had a stiff neck. I asked my wife if we had any of that Biofreeze left. She said yes. Within 30 minutes, for the first time ever, an ad for Biofreeze came up on my Facebook feed. I have never searched for anything related to Biofreeze on my phone or laptop, and I asked my wife if she had (she hadn't.) No ads for Biofreeze have shown up since that one time.
This could be a coincidence. Or it could be a result of another search you did for something like "sore neck treatment." Or it could be because you looked for Osteopaths online.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hilarity N. Suze View Post
But, about a year ago I was suffering from weepy eyes and sniffles, while browsing. And the next day I started getting dropdown ads for allergy relief and eye drops.

Yes, it was allergy season (for me, actually, though, this can be any season). But I put a piece of tape over my laptop camera and it's been there ever since. Because that was just freaky.
Google knows that you have allergies based on your searches and data history from years past. It didn't forget just because you did. It knows from the weather reports when allergies will be bad. It can put two and two together to know that people with allergies might be interested in antihistamine ads when allergy season comes back.
  #38  
Old 10-01-2019, 08:31 AM
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I have suspected for a while that I am getting targeted ads purely from things I have mentioned verbally near my phone, without actually searching or otherwise interacting. I really need to do some proper controlled experiments, by choosing a subject completely at random (maybe by opening a hard copy encyclopedia, or throwing a dart at a world map?) and then having conversations about that thing.
  #39  
Old 10-01-2019, 10:00 AM
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What if Google has a level of advertising that takes an advertiser's keywords and applies them to the "wake word" algorithm? If they get said then the targeted ads are injected to the speakers' Google ad rotation.

This eliminates the need for constant saving and parsing of all words spoken (it works exactly the same as the wake word), advertisers won't spill the beans on it because they want it to continue, and it explains why talking about BIOFREEZE gets you an ad (biofreeze had paid for the ad tier) and talking about FROYO doesn't (nobody had paid for the frozen yogurt keyword).

Eh?

FWIW my friend had an experience just like the OP's last week, except she has an iPhone. She was at the physical therapist talking about bras that would fit a specific need for her. She hadn't searched on these types of bras, then suddenly that night she got ads for them. I'd chalk it up to being at the PT's office and Apple using Location Services to send her sports bra ads, but I saw the ad - they weren't for sports bras, they were different types of bras.
  #40  
Old 10-01-2019, 10:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tired and Cranky View Post
Any chance that she searched for GoreTex online? The most obvious route to me is that she searched Amazon for Gore Tex, whether at work or at home. The computer or phone that she used has also connected at one time or another connected to her Amazon account, so it knows who she is. Some other device that she uses has also connected to your home network. I could anthropomorphize what Amazon "thinks" here, by saying things like "Amazon knows your wife is searching for Gore Tex and it thinks you might want to buy her a Gore Tex present." Of course, computers don't really think like that. What Amazon really knows is that when someone searches for Gore Tex, Amazon makes more money when it starts serving up ads for Gore Tex to everyone with a close tie to that person. A person who lives with her is about as close as they come.
Yes, that makes sense. She is emailing with people at Gore Tex from work and home. We share a kindle library and she uses my Amazon Prime account with a credit card in her name.

It was a shock, though, seeing an advert for a Gore Tex book! I assumed I'd been set up by my gf as a practical joke.
  #41  
Old 10-01-2019, 10:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mister Rik View Post
I've had odd experiences like this. One anecdotal example:

One of my coworkers was streaming music from his phone through the Bluetooth speaker we have. He was streaming 1980s pop music that day, and the song, "Video Killed the Radio Star" came on, and I mentioned that I hadn't heard that song in years.

After work, at home, I visited YouTube, and there was the video for that song, front and center in my recommendations. It was particularly strange because I almost exclusively watch videos from modern metal bands, so "Video Killed the Radio Star" couldn't have been even closely considered a "related" video.

This has since happened with other songs, from other artists I would not normally seek out on YouTube, but happened to be streamed by one of my coworkers.
The "Music Now Playing, Pixel Ambient Services" feature on my phone does listen to music in the environment. It has a history list of songs it has heard, not songs I've played on the phone, but ones that have been playing where the phone can hear them. It also says
Quote:
Now Playing works offline and never sends songs or conversations to Google.
I've not had any experience like you, where songs I heard in the car or something, then get suggested on Youtube.

My recent story: A coworker mentioned to me she needed to get her house painted. A few minutes later I saw an ad on Facebook for paint. We are not Facebook friends, and I do not have the Facebook app installed on my phone.

At the moment, I've never seen any actual evidence that the sort of eavesdropping suggested here is occurring. Just lots of coincidences. At some point some evidence may (will?) come out that despite all of the denials, it has actually been happening. It isn't only phones and digital assistants that may be listening, but also TVs, thermostats, cars, refrigerators, etc.

Last edited by echoreply; 10-01-2019 at 10:47 AM.
  #42  
Old 10-01-2019, 10:48 AM
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But I repeat myself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by enalzi View Post
Two problems:
1) We don't know your entire internet history to be able to make the same connections that Google is making.
2) As far as I know, there is no real evidence of Google listening to conversations, saving the data, and using that data to push you related items.

So eventually, the topic devolves into a bunch people giving similar anecdotes with no real cites.
  #43  
Old 10-01-2019, 10:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iamthewalrus(:3= View Post
This is possible, but it's really unlikely for a few reasons.

For one, the number of people required to build and run such a system would be pretty large. Conspiracies happen, but the successful ones are often pretty short-lived and involve just a handful of people. I'm going to say that at least one of the dozens or hundreds of engineers required to build a system that did this and funnel all the voice data around would have some misgivings about such a thing and go public. Or one of the thousands of security researchers that might stumble upon such evidence.

The PR hit Google would take would be disastrous. I'm not saying that companies always act in their long-term self-interest, but this would be such a horrendous misstep that it kind of strains credibility that they would do this.

And, as pointed out here: they don't need to do it. You actually can't learn anything that interesting about people by recording their phone conversations that you can't infer from the piles and piles of data that we provide in other contexts.

Again: there are really easy ways to test this theory. Talk about something around your phone but don't search for it (and make sure your friends don't search for it) and see if ads show up. They won't.
One more thing, if I'm out & not actively using my phone it's in my (rear) pocket. Conversations would be muffled to non-existent when I'm sitting on your sofa...



...& I haven't seen any ads for Bean-o.
  #44  
Old 10-01-2019, 11:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colophon View Post
I have suspected for a while that I am getting targeted ads purely from things I have mentioned verbally near my phone, without actually searching or otherwise interacting. I really need to do some proper controlled experiments, by choosing a subject completely at random (maybe by opening a hard copy encyclopedia, or throwing a dart at a world map?) and then having conversations about that thing.
That's what we described in posts #31 and #33 above. No results.
  #45  
Old 10-01-2019, 11:28 AM
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I think what people are probably missing is that they are likely logged into Google wherever they access the Internet. So your phone knows what your browser has been searching for and vice versa.
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  #46  
Old 10-01-2019, 02:33 PM
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The thing that keeps happening to me--which thoroughly creeps me out--is Google quickly suggests something I was just talking about when I DO go to Google that topic.

I'm somewhat savvy about privacy settings, general disallow cookies when I can, have targeted advertising turned off, do not allow Google voice activation or suggested news, and have location history disabled--but I'm well aware there's data to mine that I can't control or don't know how to disable. I have disabled Adsense and every other targeted advertising through everything I know to, so I don't often see targeted ads on my phone (and Adblock enures I never see *any* ads online).

That all as a preface: Often I will be discussing a topic with my GF or ask something outloud--"what time does Arby's close?"--and I grab my phone, open the google app, type in A-R- aaaand Arby's pops up.

Of all the things on the planet that start with A-R, jumping immediately to the correct suggestion seems like a far-fetched coincidence.

What's even CREEPIER is this happens when I'm alone, when I haven't said anything out loud. In those cases, it really starts to feel like Google is reading my mind.

I have no idea how search suggestions are prioritized--obviously there's some algorithm that pushes likely suggestions to the top based on the first few letters you type. But how correct it is so often sure FEELS like it's eavesdropping.

Last edited by dontbesojumpy; 10-01-2019 at 02:36 PM.
  #47  
Old 10-01-2019, 03:03 PM
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I just typed "ar" in google, and arby's was the first suggestion.

Different browsers - I'm reading this in firefox, and I went to do the search in Chrome. Looking at different suggestions for ar and another letter - I suspect that Arby's is just flat out the most common word to be searched for all of those words that can start with ar-

If it had been something obscure, I might be more prone to believe, but a major food chain vs. arabian or arsenal? I'd have bet on Arby's no matter what you had just done.
  #48  
Old 10-02-2019, 04:12 AM
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This is interesting. I typed "ar" into the search bar and Arby's didn't come up at all. The first suggestion was "argon vs air drysuit," which is a phrase I searched months ago (related to scuba diving); other suggestions included argos, Ariana Grande, Arsenal F.C. (soccer club), army, Arclight Cinemas Hollywood, area 51 raid, and arles (whatever that is). I have never eaten at an Arby's, and I'm mostly vegetarian, for whatever that's worth.
  #49  
Old 10-02-2019, 05:02 AM
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No Arby's for me, either
  #50  
Old 10-02-2019, 07:01 AM
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The simplest explanation is of course that you're previously searched for Arby's, and that's why it's showing up again. Google remembers, even if you've forgotten.
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