OPINION | Is your smartphone spying on you?

DO YOU HAVE A SIMILAR TALE? Little did I know that by shooting this photo of my friend Ashleigh, in a Van Gogh-inspired dress on a Wollondilly Shire backroad, would sent me down a rabbit hole of online conspiracy theories.
DO YOU HAVE A SIMILAR TALE? Little did I know that by shooting this photo of my friend Ashleigh, in a Van Gogh-inspired dress on a Wollondilly Shire backroad, would sent me down a rabbit hole of online conspiracy theories.

We all know Big Brother is watching us.

But is he listening too?

(By the term Big Brother, I don't necessarily mean our government, but something far bigger and more powerful – corporations. Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc.)

And I’m starting to suspect the secret spying devices they have planted in each of our homes are the smartphones we carry in our pockets.

I don’t meant to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but…

A few weeks ago, I was driving around Wollondilly snapping portraits for a friend, Ashleigh, and she wanted to show off her favourite dress. So, as she walked across a deserted rural road I got her to twirl around. Simple.

When I got home I was chatting to my wife about my day and mentioned that Ashleigh’s dress featured Vincent Van Gogh’s famous artwork, ‘The Starry Night’.

Well, I didn’t actually use that official name. I described it instead as ‘Starry Starry Night’, subconsciously hijacking lyrics from Don McLean’s 1971 song, Vincent.

A day later, guess what song popped up on my YouTube “recommendations”.

I hadn’t searched for Vincent online, I hadn’t listened to McLean online, my only mention of it was that loungeroom conversation.

Coincidence, surely?

Until I discovered that a couple in the US (suspecting Big Brother was listening in via their phones) chose a topic they had no interest in – cat food – and spoke about it, repeatedly, one day. Sure enough, their Facebook advertising feed was suddenly all cat food ads.

Maybe you can test this little conspiracy theory out yourself?

The “suss journo” part of my DNA was intrigued.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, I made a loud speech in my home about a random topic – Humphrey Bogart – telling my family how much I wanted to see one of his old films, perhaps Casablanca! (Verbal comments only, not online.)

Guess what YouTube “recommended” two days later?

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, a Casablanca film clip had to walk into mine. OMG!

Then again…it is an iconic movie. Coincidence again?

I then forgot about the topic as everyday life took over, and was having a phone conversation about a book project I’m working on. We were discussing a logo which used a wax seal as part of its artistic design.

Now, I dunno about you, but entire decades can pass in between me voicing aloud, or even thinking about, the phrase “wax seal”.

Yet, on my YouTube feed a few days later…recommended… how to apply a wax seal. OMG again. This was now feeling creepy.

On the same day, I had a conversation with a family member that swayed between two topics: Donald Trump and fast food.

A day or so later, a video called “We Eat Like Donald Trump for a Day” popped up as a recommendation.

Is it still another coincidence? I admit, I’m starting to ask questions. Maybe you can test it yourself.

What makes me really alarmed is that these topics were NOT online searches. They were private conversations in my own home…with iphones, ipads, etc, within earshot. Are corporate computer systems listening in?

I recall, as a young journo 32 years ago, writing stories on Bob Hawke’s proposed “Australia Card” – an ID card for all citizens – and the outrage felt by most Aussies at the mere thought that a government or institution might have all our personal data at its fingertips.

That card was defeated…or has it been replaced by something far more sinister?

Perhaps the only thing George Orwell got wrong with his famous novel, 1984, was the date.