Jim Fisher

Lots of my friends are absolutely convinced that Facebook is using their phone’s microphone to listen to every spoken word. I’ve written before about how this is actually improbable from both a technical and legal standpoint. There simply isn’t enough computing power and hard drive storage space on the planet to record the conversations of billions of Facebook users. It’s also extremely illegal. If Facebook were found to be doing this (and they would be discovered) CEO Mark Zuckerberg would do some hard time in prison. “Zuc” is a lot of things but stupid is not one of them.

However, I did have a couple of amazing coincidences happen to me and one of our technicians recently that I’d like to share with you. The first involves fruit flies in my home brewery. It seems that fruit flies love the smell of fermenting beer as much as I do (it smells like baking bread, not beer). I was researching for natural ways to control them. One effective way is to grow Venus Flytraps to eat the critters so I was educating myself on those plants. Not five minutes after coming across Venus Flytraps on the internet, my UPS guy pulled up in front of my office in a rented Uhaul truck. I guess the regular truck was broken. Right there on the side of the Uhaul was a huge picture of a Venus Flytrap that had something to do with carnivorous plants of North Carolina. Yes, somehow Google or Facebook delivered that “ad” right to my doorstep. Isn’t that amazing? Well, no. It’s just a cool coincidence. I’m convinced this explains the majority of my friend’s claims but there is more to the story.

One of our technicians, Chris, visited a client. While he was there, he and the clients discussed the Broadway play, “Book of Mormon (BoM).” Moments later, he whipped out his phone and saw an ad for the Book of Mormon on Facebook. Chris hadn’t googled Book of Mormon. He had not expressed interest in BoM on Facebook. The coincidence was astounding and really hard to ignore. So what’s the explanation? The most likely explanation is that someone on that client’s network Googled “Book of Mormon” or clicked on an ad when they had a show in Huntsville a few months ago. Facebook does associate your phone with the IP address from whatever network you happen to be using at the moment. So the most rational explanation is that Chris was on a network that someone used to search for BoM at some point in the recent past.

The fact is that a microphone that listens to you 24/7 would take an enormous amount of complexity and a huge number of conspirators willing to risk prison just to show you an ad for Book of Mormon. Skepticism requires that we think of other less complicated (and more legal) ways of Facebook sending you targeted ads that don’t require tinfoil hats.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com