privacy

The Time My Phone Spied On Me

Moments before Thanskgiving Dinner this year, I almost threw my phone across the room with the intent of shattering it into a million tiny pieces.

Earlier that day, I’d been having a conversation in our living room about carpet cleaning while the baby was doing some tummy time. The rest of the morning was a whirlwind of running a 5k, showering, and getting the baby ready and out the door to be with family, so when I had a moment to sit down, I decided to check Instagram (instead of watching football). As I scrolled through my feed, I saw an ad. Not unusual, but this was an ad for a carpet cleaning service.

Between all the craziness of the morning, I hadn’t had a chance to search online for carpet cleaning services, nor was I particularly interested- what I had said was “It probably wouldn’t hurt to buy some carpet cleaner.”

My kneejerk reaction was to destroy my phone (I have a serious distrust of robots/A.I. on a good day). Instead, I was informed by someone that I simply had to turn my microphone off for certain apps (the same ad appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, but I assume that was because Instagram and Facebook are connected). Anyway, it turns out that on iPhones, you have to go to Settings > Privacy > Microphone, and see what Apps have Microphone on. It turns out, I had both Facebook and Instagram on, as well as Snapchat.

Facebook vehemently denies that it uses our microphones to listen to us. Well, what they actually said was “…it would only use the microphone on someone’s cell if the app had permission to do so and if the user was engaging in a microphone-specific activity.” In this post from Marketing Land, Facebook addresses allegations that it was using the microphone to target ads, which they continue to deny (I haven’t found anything mentioning whether Instagram might be listening, though…).

To be fair, you have to give these apps permission to use your microphone, so it’s not like it happened without an opt-in. The tricky part is, certain features of these apps require microphone use to use, and it doesn’t disclose any other stuff that the microphone could be used for.

For instance, I allowed Facebook to have microphone access because in order to record a live video from your phone, you obviously need to utilize the microphone so people can hear you (unless, for some reason, you’re doing a “silent film” style live broadcast). On Instagram, if you want to do Stories (the little 24 hour posts), you have to enable both camera and microphone access.

Now, I’m not opposed to giving these apps permission to use my microphone so I can record video or posts of my child hiccupping that are probably only endearing to me personally, but it would be nice to know what exactly this permission entails (like, trying to get me to hire a certain carpet cleaning service, which may actually work, but that’s besides the point).

Moral of the story: read the fine print, and if there is no fine print, maybe think long and hard about what you might be giving permission for. This could all be paranoia/speculation, but regardless, it was fairly creepy.

Check out our related post, Is your phone listening to you? for additional slightly creepy info.

What I Really Think About Facebook

Several times, I’ve heard people refer to me as ‘the Facebook girl’. The most common questions we get involve Facebook: how to use it for business and what people can/can’t see on your profile.

If only so I have an easy thing to link to when I answer Facebook questions, I thought I’d write a post about it today.

Fact 1: Facebook is a tool, which means we need to properly use it.
Whenever people get mad at Facebook, I get annoyed. Because here’s the thing: it’s a free tool. You aren’t paying for it. Facebook is paying employees to maintain the site, create improvements, hosting costs for all those photos you upload, and more. You know how you pay for magazine subscriptions, cable television, and other sources of entertainment but don’t pay to use Facebook?  Yeah, exactly.

How can you offer something for free that costs money? You offer advertising. You take advantage of the same tax loopholes as big corporations like Walmart or Target. You sell shares. Now you are a profitable company yet still offer a free service.

The second you become a paying customer, a shareholder, or a developer who solves a Facebook problem if they would only implement it, complain all you want. Otherwise to me, it’s the equivalent of people who complain about our government but don’t get involved in the political process.

And guess what? If Facebook suddenly wanted to charge, all the power to them. It’s their website, not ours. If you want some bit of information to be yours forever and ever, put it on your website. Because you own that.

Fact 2: Facebook is the new silly email forward, which means I will ignore a lot of it.
Those ridiculous things you used to get in your email inbox have gone onto Facebook… where I will also ignore them. Let’s address these two of these things I see the most often which I am ignoring/deleting like I was doing with these email forwards way back when:

Intolerant Posts
People on both sides of the political, religious, and other aisles we’ve created in society need to stop posting negative stuff about the other side. First of all, there are plenty of ways to make your point in a non-negative way.

Second, there’s a psychological phenomenon where when you talk about other people, the person that’s hearing you subconsciously attributes those qualities to you.  So if you are saying someone is arrogant, the person hearing you saying it thinks you’re arrogant. Think on that.

OMG Privacy Posts
At least every two months, I see a bunch of ‘the sky is falling’ status updates about Facebook privacy. They are usually a flurry of activity as they get copied from friend to friend. You’ll notice me ‘the Facebook girl’ never perpetuates these.

In response to this latest one: if you really think I am going to click on and change a setting for you, you are crazy. I have over 900 friends and not much spare time.

If you are using something, you need to understand it. You wouldn’t misuse your microwave (by, say, putting aluminum foil in it and shorting it out) and then bring the microwave back to the store and tell them it’s their fault it’s broken. There are hundreds of great blogs out there including Mashable and AllFacebook which cover Facebook and how to use it in detail. You can also ask an expert for help.

The good news? Misusing Facebook won’t usually cause an electrical fire.

If you are genuinely worried about privacy settings 1) Go to your privacy settings on your profile and put your shields way up and 2) Don’t share things on Facebook you don’t want people to see. Which brings me to…

Fact 3: Facebook is my workplace, which means I will respect it.
Despite evidence I see daily, Facebook is public. If you wouldn’t want your boss and your grandmother seeing it, don’t post it.

Go look at my Facebook page if you want. These are all things I don’t mind you seeing: pictures of my dog, what I ate for dinner. Have you ever seen what my bedroom looks like? A picture of me doing any kind of illegal substance? A mean comment about someone else? Exactly. This isn’t me putting up a front; this is my public persona. A curated version of who I am that I am showing you on purpose.

You know where I go to relax? Pinterest. There, no one expects anything of me or wants to interact and instead I can just look at pretty pictures. (Alice’s version of this is Imgur.)

As Facebook evolves, it’s been interesting to watch how people use this tool. Heck, how I use the tool.

But as long as a majority of you respect this free resource by treating other users with respect, I think I will be grateful for what it does and tolerant of its shortcomings. Otherwise, I’m going to move onto the next social thing, and gladly.