A few months ago, I made temporary peace with Instagram and returned to posting, mostly because the boys are on the platform and it’s good to relate to them that way too. I’ve sent them way too many photos of dogs and otters, and small cabins tucked in fairy-tale forests, but let’s not talk about that. They share whatever makes them tick and so we dance. Also, there are amazing photos, bits of vulnerable life, and a connection through shared images of our crazy beautiful world and its inhabitants, which includes us humans.

It’s a free app, but it’s not. The price is reflected in the targeted ads I see daily, many of which seems to match the conversations I am having with my family. If you open your mouth to speak about something, Instagram is like the aunt that knows someone who knows someone who can supply you with the stuff, or at least the knowledge. Except it is not your aunt, but Instagram, and you are being targeted with ads. First, it was the garden beds, then photography and music stuff (the boys’ interests), but what really got me thinking that something is up was the fly-fishing stuff. That’s not mine, so I never searched anything related. And yet, ads on how to tie flies are stuck to my Instagram feed. My husband on the other hand loves everything fly-fishing so he talks about it and if my suspicions are correct, Instagram bots just eat it up and regurgitate it as ads.

According to this article from last year, the Instagram CEO explained during an interview that it’s probably dumb luck that some ads are just so fitting (yeah, right,) or maybe you saw that kind of stuff already and now you start seeing it (let me say it again: yeah, right!). Those were the options he proposed. He was mum on the third, which is the data mining algorithms through which Facebook and Instagram figure out who you are and what you like, the article explains. And then, the ad bots populate your feed with ‘Wow, that’s great, just what I need.’

Some experts say there is listening involved, others say no way. Here’s a good article on that. By the way, I do all my online searching with my preferred search engine DuckDuckGo because unlike Google, it does not leave traces for creepy algorithms. I wrote about it before here. Plus… the name, right?

I thought I’d try to prove the eavesdropping hypothesis with talking about some new thing and monitoring the ads popping up, but on second thought, I won’t. Instead, I decided to deny Instagram the listening privileges. The how to goes like this (on Android, that is): open Settings -> Privacy -> Permissions manager -> select microphone from the list of many things your phone is managing on your behalf (ha!) and then you will see all the apps that have that privilege. Select whichever (Instagram in this case) and deny permission. The question remains: how about the other apps listening, which pretty much renders the phone as a listening-in-to-your-conversations device?

I know, I know, we are never truly alone, right? I agree, but these days we are more inclined than everto pour our hearts out, our passions and interests too, and many have pretty much made social media their retreat from real life because of the quarantine. The ad bots are busy these days. The way it works is that the more you reveal online through direct postings, searches and whatever other activities you engage in online, the more details about yourself you share, so the targeted ad bots are busy crafting things for you to see, buy and they are generally influencing your thinking to a degree.

So you see, it’s not the ‘never truly alone’ part that bothers me, but the creepiness. And according to this article, it is real. And that’s just not right.