Blake Dowling: Can you hear me now, social media?
Spies eavesdropping a telephone conversation women. Comic cartoon pop art retro illustration drawing

Spies eavesdropping a telephone conversation women
Social sites claim they do not listen to our conversations. Do we believe them? No.

One sunny afternoon during the 2021 pandemic, I recall sitting on the patio working on my book project, “Professionally Distanced.”

My agent, book idea person, PR guru, golfing expert, pal, and County Commission candidate Jay Revell, had me on a mission to proofread our first draft.

Those reading glasses suggested by social media helped get my book, “Professionally Distanced,” on the shelf at Midtown Reader last summer.

Said something to my wife that I could not see anything regarding the font and started to borrow her glasses.

More verbal complaining followed (within earshot of the phone), and a brief time later, an ad for readers popped up on one of my social media feeds.

How many of you reading this have seen this happen? No searching. No clicking. Just talk about it, and — voila — you get ads.

Social sites claim they do not listen to our conversations.

Do we believe them? No. Let’s dive in.

Four proofs of my book — and the beginning of old age for me, glasses needed.

Enter the algorithm.

A program created by these companies and enhanced by artificial intelligence to get things in front of you that you may be influenced to click, like, share or (most importantly) purchase.

The obvious things are tracked, who you follow, what you like, and what you say in comments; it gets complicated.

Tracking can also include where you go, who you are with, what they like, how long you looked at a picture, and if you read the caption. They get you if you are like me and block people, snooze people for 30 days, and click buttons that say something like “see fewer posts like this.” Meanwhile, I am crafting my custom little online world, but now I am telling these companies what I don’t like as well as being able to tell what I do like already.


More on algorithms in a bit; how about testing whether talking leads to ads?

I found a group mentioned online — called Wandera — that supposedly placed an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy in a room for three days. During that time, advertisements for pet food ads ran for 30 minutes a day. The results? No pet food ads showed up.

Another test involves a TikTok star saying you can prove the social media giants are not listening. Get a friend, discuss the topic a few times and see what happens.

There are other examples, and none support my/our hypothesis that there are more than just algorithms.

So maybe they are not listening (as the CEO of Facebook swore under oath) that they do not listen, so what else are they doing? I also forgot how possessed Zuck looked while testifying; more info on that is in this helpful video from down under:

The young lady in this video also did a great test saying “snorkel” repeatedly in front of her phone. DOH! No ads there either.

Now it is time to check out an actual ad in my Facebook feed and see what it has to say …

Click the three dots in the top right of the ad by the X, and you get to take some control and do some digging.

I clicked the three dots at the top of the ad (by the X) to begin exploring. On the next screen is the “why am I seeing this ad” button, then you can really get in the weeds with its long answer.

The section on offline activity is especially interesting, as this would mean someone placing an ad with Facebook gives them everything they know about their customers (you) and allows the algorithm to use that data more intelligently.

For example, if you are at a party (the phone is tracking you via the social site, as you have location tracking enabled) and your friend is also at the party (the phone follows them, too) and they just bought a case of Archer’s Peach Schnapps.

Facebook might deduce that you are a diabolical schnapps fiend and pop up an ad for peach schnapps right there on your social pages.

No one is really listening to us via our phones, despite indicators suggesting otherwise.

So, let us remember these social pages are optional. You can turn them off anytime.

Other steps, such as turn off location tracking — not just on the site but any plug-ins or connected sites as it all works together.

You can also stop “checking in” to places since this tells them much of what they want to know.

Even better, go into Facebook and turn off “ads based on activities,” “ads based on social actions,” and “ads based on data from our partners.” That will free you up quite a bit, but it will be like motoring down the interstate; there will still be ads, just not hyper customized for you.

Or see earlier advice and bail out on social sites for a while.

Or just roll with it. Every day we have to go through the motions on some website to verify we are not a robot by clicking how many fire hydrants are in a picture. Plus, my robot TV (Netflix) is so confused as it says I should watch “Perfect Strangers” next … Balki, really? I guess that’s what happens to the algorithm when you have (three) people in a house watching Netflix.

The college student: Disney Channel.

The wife: “Downtown Abbey” (misspelled on purpose; good name for an R-rated HBO show) and “Outlander.”

Or me: “Clone Wars,” “The 100,” “Quantum Leap,” etc.

We broke the computer, I guess. I don’t really mind the ads, and I have glasses in every room of my house. We got that book finished, thanks to them.

You can pick up a copy here.

I hope you have a great long weekend. As for me, time to check in with Balki Bartokmous from Mypos and enjoy eight seasons of Perfect Strangers — as the computer told me to.

Thank you for reading.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and the Biz & Tech podcast host. You can reach him at [email protected].

Jay Revell and I as we unboxed the first copy of “Professionally Distanced.”

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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