Is your phone listening to you?

Jenna Langan

You’re scrolling through your feed, and what do you know, staring back at you is an ad for a product you were just telling your friend about.

If you have an Instagram, you know this all too well. It seems their ads know you better than you know yourself these days.

Erin Hagelberger, a senior recreation park/tourism management major and Halle Pappalardo, a junior journalism major are two of the many students here at Kent State who have experienced this invasion of privacy.

“I just got a cat and I was talking about cat food the other day, and later that night a 9Lives ad popped up on my Instagram,” Hagelberger said.

She’s not alone, just last week a tweet about this common occurrence went viral.

“I think it’s the government,” Pappalardo said. “My grandma was telling us about a recipe for this bread and later that night, an ad popped up on my mom’s Facebook for that exact recipe.”

Government or not, it seems somebody on Instagram is capable of knowing everything from the brand of shoes you like, to what you ate for lunch.

“I think it’s weird, especially if I haven’t been on Instagram all day and I talk about something and the first thing I see is an ad for that. It’s so weird,” Hagelberger said.

So are they really tracking you through your phone’s microphone or not?

Digital analytics and digital public relations professor, Stefanie Moore, weighed in with her expertise.

“The biggest thing is there really isn’t any evidence to show if this is true or not,” Moore said. “A lot of it is speculation and Instagram and Facebook have both said that they are not listening to consumers. So I guess we have to believe what they’re saying, although we can certainly question it.”

It may seem like an invasion of privacy, but just by logging in you are actually giving Instagram the ability to learn your every move and search.

To keep ads relevant to you, Instagram is constantly gathering information about what you do and search on any third-party sites and apps you use.

Not only this, Instagram has access to any of the people, brands and companies you like and follow on their parent site, Facebook.

“Based on who we follow and our browsing patterns, they can really tell a lot about us and I don’t think we really understood what’s being captured about us until we start seeing these ads,” Moore said.

Creeped out by the targeted ads and want them to stop? Here are some things you can do.

  1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising.

  2. Turn on Limit Ad Tracking.

There’s even a way to turn off ads based on your location.

  1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services.

  2. Turn off Location-Based Apple Ads.

If you want to take it another step, turn off the microphone:

  1. Go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone

  2. Turn off the Microphone for Instagram

Jenna Langan is the tech-consumer reporter. Contact her at [email protected].