Is My Phone Really Listening?

Is My Phone Really Listening?

We’ve all been there; you and a friend are talking about the latest and greatest product, and then the next time you open Facebook, BOOM, there’s an ad for it. And then you immediately wonder if every Amazon employee is hiding behind the nearest hedge judging your browsing history and your previous purchases.


So we, the digital marketing pros, are here to give you the scoop, the deets, the lowdown. 

You might want to sit down for this. 

Just kidding, it’s not that juicy. 

How do our phones know what we’re searching for?

Our phone's retailers have the uncanny ability to know what we’re searching for, but does that mean they know who we are?

The good news is - no, Amazon, and any other retailer for that matter, doesn’t know where you live, and they don’t even know who you are. They only know what TYPE of person you are and what TYPE of products you tend to buy or browse for.

How Retailers Track What You Browse & Buy

We’re able to do this thanks to retargeting technology known as a tracking code. Here’s how it works.

  1. We install a code on the backend of a website that usually looks something like this: <!-- Facebook Pixel → content="839203sfasljfalsjfq09wo3ir0093.i098kaajd=asif8949" /> Yes, it really does look like that. No fancy snooping here.
  2. Then we create an ad within a paid social platform like Facebook’s Ads Manager that will be shown to a “retargeting audience” - aka the people who visit said website, website page, product page, etc. that the code has been installed on.
  3. Then, when someone visits that website, page, or product, they’ll see the ad.
  4. Wah-lah. We’ve just shown an ad to someone interested in a product who may now be willing to purchase said product because they’re seeing it again.

So, if you’ve been trying to tell people all along that our phones are really listening, then yes, you’re sort of right. Sort of.

But if you’re someone who has been telling people all along that marketers are also using that information to track you down and install 5G microchips in your body:

Stop that right now. 

Can online retailers see my personal details?

No, not through tracking codes. With tracking codes, we don’t have access to any private data that would identify an individual, including their name, address, occupation, place of employment, marital status, etc. who may be interested in our product or service, and we don’t have access to data granular enough to tell us what individuals specifically we’re targeting, even if we are targeting by age, gender, location, job title, etc.

For example, I can see data that helps me understand the demographic of our most high-performing audiences, but I can’t see anything that would allow me to identify who those individuals are. 

Social Ad Targeting Limitations

In Facebook’s Ads Manager, I can target by:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Job Title
  • Education Level

So for an ad for an optometry school, for example, this is the audience targeting information we’d choose:

Here’s another view that displays which age range and gender are more likely to engage with our ad.



So we know that men ages 18-24 are the most likely to view our ads, and we can utilize that for future campaigns to ensure we’re targeting the right folks, but what I can’t view are the names, addresses, and personal data of these individuals. 

I’m sure that’s a huge sigh of relief to everyone with a Facebook account whose data was already sold to Russia. Just kidding.  

Well, maybe. I don’t know what Facebook does because I don’t read their 700-page privacy updates, and they’ve definitely never been caught selling information to Russia.


This leads me to the actually frightening part. You might actually want to sit down now.

While marketers don’t have access to your personal data just because we can send you ads for items you’ve seen online, that doesn’t mean your phone isn’t actually listening.

As marketers, we can attest to what tracking codes are doing, but Siri, Alexa, and Okay Google might have their own agendas for world domination. 

So rest assured, at least from a marketing standpoint, your phone may be tracking, but it’s not listening. Oh, and don’t forget to turn off the Hey Siri feature on your phone. Toodles.

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If you're an organization that wants to harness the full power of social media thoughtfully, we'd love to help. We can help you use social to connect with your target audience and drive results (with security and privacy at the forefront). 

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Posted by Digital Marketing Team at 08:04