The first time it happened, I thought to myself Siri is a secret spy, but now I'm starting to think that Facebook is the true culprit. Several months ago, a sponsored Facebook ad for Chewy Sweet Tarts appeared at the top of my News Feed. On a normal day, fine. Perhaps I'm in Sweet Tart's target market, and I was the chosen one to receive their ad that day--moving on. However, I immediately became suspicious because at the same time, I was talking to my friend Josh about why he was so obsessed with, you guessed it, Chewy Sweet Tarts. So either this was a major coincidence, or Siri had been listening to my conversation at that moment.
Ever since, I have been skeptical and keenly aware of what I search for and say in front of Siri. The same thing has happened several times since, and each time I consciously think back to the last time I ever searched for X keyword; yet, I can only remember ever saying the keyword, usually moments before seeing the sponsored ad on Facebook. For example, my roommate got a paper cut while studying last night and asked if I had a bandaid. I replied, "No, but I have some Neosporin." After settling the paper cut crisis, I opened my Facebook app and this sponsored ad (pictured below) is at the top of my News Feed. WTH! This is blog post worthy, I thought to myself. So, I did some digging.
A recent Forbes article highlighted Facebook's response to a University of South Florida communications professor who conducted a simple experiment to illustrate this phenomena:
“Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection...We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”
Similarly, a Reddit thread went viral after a user posted about a time when he was talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach and a sponsored ad for pest control appeared at the top of his News Feed. The post has since been removed.
Clearly Facebook is not happy with people making these claims (sorry Facebook, nothing personal!) and they are aggressively defending their policies. As a marketer, I think this stuff is fascinating, so I'm not turned off by it--I'm just curious! How does it work? How did a Neosporin ad appear at the top of my News Feed moments after I said the word "Neosporin"?
Have you ever encountered a similar experience? Do you think this is a good tool for business or do you think it's just straight up creepy? Let me know in the comments!