The Phones Are Listening

I’ve known about this for a very long time. For a while, it was a suspicion of mine. This is because they’d try to be discrete about how they delivered things to the phone based on what they’ve heard.

From 2017-2019, I spent a good deal of time at home. But I was fortunate enough to have some people in my life who got me out of the house on the weekends. In this regard, Catherine has been a good friend to me.

Catherine and I are still good friends to each other, as well as roommates, even though we were a couple from mid-1999 to late-2019.

When we went out on the weekends, sometimes I’d buy a guitar. During those two years, I bought every guitar I had ever wanted to own, as well as a few that I didn’t previous know about.

Every time I bought a new guitar, I’d start seeing stories about it in Google News. Google would also put my new guitar up front-and-center whenever they delivered ads to my phone.

I wrote about this on a forum, and one person I knew on the forum replied that I was “paranoid and stupid” to think that this was the case. Of course, this person now talks about how lizard people are real, along with other Q and Trump conspiracies.

Not much of a thinker there, and one of many reasons why I no longer belong to any forums. The idiots are busy calling other people idiots and being aggressive so they can feel better about themselves. But I digress.

Today is Catherine’s birthday, and her birthday has something to do with why I am writing this. But it’s not the first time her birthday showcased some questionable online behavior on the part of companies.

I threw a big party for her ten years ago, for her 11/11/11 celebration. She’s into numbers, so I would accommodate.

At one point in the party, I took the stage and told everyone that I was going to demonstrate how SIRI is sexist. How I did this was I asked SIRI two different questions. I kept both questions about as equally crude as possible.

The first question was, “SIRI, where can I get some pvssy?” SIRI responded with a list of escorts, how far away they were, and their phone numbers. “Here are a few nearby options in your area.”


So then I went to the SECOND question, which was, “SIRI, where can I get some d!ck?” SIRI wasn’t having ANY of this and responded with, “I’m sorry, but that is a VERY inappropriate question.”

Kind of leaves the ladies hanging, methinks.

Now that I’ve shared this funny aside, back to the Google Listening Party.

Catherine let me know that she wanted me to be involved with her birthday celebration. She wanted to go somewhere to shop briefly, and then wanted to go get something to eat.

While she was looking for restaurants for dinner, she saw something cool on the map. That is, a place called Spencer Gifts, or simply Spencers.

Keep in mind that she was doing all of this on HER iPad, logged into HER Google account, and that’s it. My phone was positioned on a table nearby, and I was wearing my Samsung watch, which can also hear lots of things.

Catherine said she had no idea that Spencers still existed. I said the same, and noted that the last time I’d been to a Spencers was in 1999. We continued talking about Spencers for another 20 minutes. Not ONCE did I type out ANYTHING on my phone relating to Spencers.

We ultimately decided that we’d go to Spencers during the day sometime, and then in the late afternoon go somewhere for dinner. And that was the end of the conversation.

About 10-15 minutes had passed, when my phone notified me that I had an email. I went to look, and this was the email:

I suppose it could be a coincidence, but I doubt it.

I seriously doubt that this was a coincidence.

Remember the guitar purchasing stuff? Given the precise nature of their recommendations after every single guitar purchase, even back then I knew that it was not a coincidence.

The difference back then was that they were trying to cover it up a little bit. They wanted some plausible deniability, and got that in their efforts from people who now believe all kinds of crazy things.

Now, in our Post-Truth Dystopian Hellscape, much like how our politicians no longer try to window dress anything they say or do, companies like Google and PayPal have gone full-blown “mask off,” showing that they no longer care if it’s obvious.

Some have suggested that the world has fallen and has become a nightmare. Certainly, I suggested that in the previous section. However, so far as I am concerned, it has been like this the entire time, and the problem is that we’ve lost our comfortable facade.

It’s the lie that gets sold to us, which most will accept blindly and willingly, because it protects their belief that they live in America, the “greatest country in the world,” and that everything is fine, all is under control, nothing to worry about, Baby Jesus is watching everyone, and so on.

The people who want to keep believing this about America are the same people who are NOT willing to do even ONE THING to try to drive America more closer to that reality.

It’s like the entire place is on fire, and they’re standing there cheering, “We’re number one!” while waving giant foam hands with a finger pointing up, painted like the American flag.

Everything is mask off. No more polite society, where people will be civil with one another. No more acceptance. No more kindness. No more Humanity.

It’s all dead and gone.

And companies like Google and PayPal have decided that they should start removing the mask as well. At this point, most people suspect that their phones listen to them.

I have found the take of a few skeptics to be worth considering. What they suggest is that the phones do not have to listen to us, because they follow what we type, and the phone algorithm has deemed us all to be predictable.

That can be the case. In going back to my guitar purchasing adventures, I did buy the guitars at the guitar store, sometimes with my phone. I’d also take photos of the guitars and put them in a neat folder in my Google Drive. So most definitely, I could be giving them a great deal of information in that way.

But this Spencers thing is VERY different, in that I hadn’t looked up, searched, or done ANYTHING on my phone relating to Spencers, ever. I have NEVER looked up the company, gone to the website, or anything else.

Note the “Auto tag.”
In this photo, Tibo Bat killed a leaf for me. Good boy!

The FIRST time that Spencers came up in conversation since I’ve been using iPhones and Android phones was last night. I gave them NOTHING and no reason to suspect that I was ever a customer, or that I ever would be.

While the skeptics DO have a point, I believe that I also have a point. Smartphones are basically data scrapers and they take data ALL the time, in any format they want.

This includes the methods they’ve suggested, as well as what I am suggesting.

When I take a picture of my cats, the phone automatically knows it’s a cat and tags it.

That’s the Artificial Intelligence at work. Nice of it to help me out, but it’s also helping itself out.

What can be done about this? Not much. One non-option involves attempting to live in modern society without a smartphone. Ownership of these phones has become a necessity. If you get a job and are signing up for company health care, HR will email you a QR code, which you scan with your smartphone to start the enrollment process.

That’s but one of many examples.

I did go in and modify some permissions that some apps have. For some, it makes sense to have these permissions, but with others it does not because the app does not use the microphone at all.

Maybe I’ll not keep my phone so close to me all the time. And I could stop wearing the watch unless I’m going out, step count be damned.

But if I end up keeping my phone out of voice range, I’ll probably not do that until tomorrow. My plan for now is to spend the rest of the morning talking about naked women showing up on my doorstep with nothing but a bag of beef jerky in one hand and cat snacks in the other.

Maybe Google and PayPal can make something happen. Yes? After all, it seems that SIRI was no slouch ten years ago. And I will be flat-out asking.

One can only hope.

If you like what I write, then please consider sending a one-time donation to me via PayPal. Please use the following link and click SEND to donate, and thank you for reading!

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

3 thoughts on “The Phones Are Listening

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