At this stage in our society’s technological development, it is common knowledge that our cell phones and social media accounts collect and record our personal data and information.
Sites such as Facebook monitor users’ searches to collect data on their assumed interests and hobbies for advertisers to buy. Recent controversies surround Apple iPhones, as advertisements on Facebook and Instagram coincidentally appear after users have in-person discussions about them.
It begs the question—are our devices listening to us, and if so, why do we put so much trust into them?
Reporters for the BBC investigated these claims and published findings in March 2016. While they couldn’t confirm that cell phones were always listening to their users, they did hire cybersecurity experts to write a prototype app that can listen to users.
Reporters spoke through a microphone, and the prototype app could identify key words within their speech. If applied to cell phones, the app would be able to send this information to advertisers.
Their conclusion was that it could be possible for companies such as Google to use similar codes to listen to their users without their awareness.
This theory is like our musings about government surveillance, what we often refer to as “Big Brother.” Potential surveillance by our cell phones is a familiar sentiment, one we could refer to as “Best Friend”—surveillance by a device we are mentally, emotionally and socially attached to despite our knowledge of its risks and flaws.
But the issue is greater than “Big Brother.” With the Internet constantly at our fingertips, the way people think seems to be shifting and attention spans are decreasing. In an essay by Nicholas Carr from The Atlantic, he writes, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”
While we are actively aware of the fact that potential breaches of privacy exist and that our personal information is sold to advertisers, we continue with our daily habits and attachments to our devices.
It is imperative that we remain cognizant of our cell phone and social media usage because it may be affecting us more than we think.