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    A single anecdote honestly doesn’t even hint very hard that this is a real thing. Confirmation bias is incredibly strong. In the absence of significantly more rigorously-collected evidence, I’m very strongly inclined to say the ad was relevant by pure coincidence.

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      Yea, there are many possibilities that are far more likely than the one they propose.

      Simple coincidence is definitely one. Or someone else in the group did a search while connected to the same hotspot, or while advertisers had figured out they’re in the same household.

      People often overestimate how random and unique their behavior is. You can often tell a lot about someone based on a few demographics…and can make surprising correlations.

      It may be as simple as their age/location/profession to tell you they’re likely to consider buying a projector in the next 6 months. Perhaps they read an article about setting up a movie night, or gaming outdoors, etc.

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        Quite likely, but ytf would Instagram require microphone access?

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            Oh, I didn’t know. Thought it was a picture service. Only seen it occasionally, never used it.

            Thanks for clearing it up!

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            It can record videos with sound. Microphone access is required to use the camera in the app as a result.

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          This story can’t possibly be true. Instagram cannot be listening to your microphone while it’s the background. OP says they’re using an iPhone, and on the iPhone, if an app is using the microphone in the background, there’s a gigantic red status bar that’s impossible to miss. Not to mention the phone was in low power mode, and low power mode disables most background processing anyway.

          This appears to just be a case of confirmation bias.

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            Not true. In fact, the audio subsystem is on the short list of things that can reliably be accessed in the background.

            See https://developer.apple.com/library/content/documentation/iPhone/Conceptual/iPhoneOSProgrammingGuide/BackgroundExecution/BackgroundExecution.html

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              If the app is already recording, sure (but if it is, then you can’t possibly miss the big red status bar that shows up when you move the app to the background). But if it’s not already recording, then it’s not going to have a chance to wake up in the background in order to start secretly recording (which isn’t going to work anyway because it would have to be certain the user isn’t looking at the screen and so won’t see the red status bar, and it doesn’t have any way of knowing that).

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                I’m not so fast to reject that FB is doing something unethical. They’ve been down this road before https://techcrunch.com/2015/10/15/facebook-working-on-fix-for-ios-app-battery-drain-issue/

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                  Yes, they were abusing background audio sessions (by playing a silent file) in order to stay awake in the background. That’s pretty bad. But that doesn’t really have any bearing on the concrete factual objections I raised to the plausibility of this story.

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                    It’s proof that your objections are both not concrete or factual, and that Facebook isn’t afraid to abuse this behavior (and potentially other unknown behaviors).

                    I’m not accusing anyone of doing this, but it’s a little naieve to presume impossibility.

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                      I listed a very obvious factual reason why they cannot possibly be doing this. The gigantic red status bar that would be impossible to miss. I don’t understand why you seem to be trying to spread FUD about “maybe they’re doing it anyway” because they cannot do this without being noticed immediately by basically their entire userbase.

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            I don’t believe this story at all. Mainly because its too complex from a tech perspective to be worthwhile.

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              Among the least scientific experiments I’ve read about. How many keywords were spoken that didn’t result in ads?

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                  That is a primary source of information, thank you. As facebook announces it, it has more to loose than to earn by doing it all the same (legal, popularity issues…).

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                    That’s what’s really needed here. This post is all speculative. Maybe his friend searched for the same product and they were on the same cell tower and their ad service blankets ads to entire subnets?

                    Unless you show causation, by installing your own ca on the phone, mitm Instagram’s coms to its server and finding the offending data, you don’t have hard evidence.

                    I wouldn’t put this past Facebook. They’re pretty unethical. But we need proof.

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                    Perhaps a network activity log for the IG app would help confirm this.

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                      I would be surprised if you can pull even transferred packet counts off an iPhone.

                      Can you? Does anyone monitor that?

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                        No need to rely on the phone. Connect to wifi, run tcpdump on router. Read the dictionary aloud until a matching ad appears.

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                          If Instagram uses TLS, you’ll need to jailbreak the phone, install your own ca, issue certs for Instagram/Facebook, and mitm the encrypted traffic.

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                            Sure, to be able to see the actual data. But even without decrypting, it would be meaningful to see that traffic is going to Instagram servers when the phone is locked.

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                              Don’t most apps from big companies use certificate pinning ?

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                            Doubt you can do it without jailbreaking, but you should be able to at least pipe everything through Charles and get a sense of network activity from there.

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                          Isn’t it more likely that the cousin searched for the microprojector and, if they might be friends on Instagram, the ad might have matched his profile too?

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                            While I do not believe it actually listened at your microphone, it may reveal something more frightening:

                            If you really did not typed “videoprojector” or any related term, they figured out that you were likely to want a video projector by analysing the other information they have about you.

                            Now try go guess how much information they have about facebook users to achieve this, and what is left that they do not know.

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                              who actually serves those ads ? IG themselves ? or are they leveraging google’s ad network ?

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                                They use unified Facebook/Instagram ad network http://imgur.com/a/AYdrb

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                                Calling this an experiment is quite generous.

                                That said, I’ve noticed many conversations I’ve had only in person have been appearing in ads lately. Could be Instagram, but also could be my Google Home or any other network of metadata piecing together the actual details.

                                • Ex 1: I asked my friend at work how much a masseuse usually costs, and later that night I get an Instagram ad that is advertising https://www.soothe.com
                                • Ex 2: At home friends and I were talking about how funny a rose-gold Casio watch would be, and just a few hours later one appears in an ad in my Instagram feed.
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                                  it’s already very well-recorded that facebook does this, it’s not too surprising that instagram does as well.