Is Instagram recording your conversations?

The theory is that your phone is listening to you so that social media apps can show you ads targeted to what you talk about, but I don’t think that should bother you, because what’s already happening might be worse.

If you have social media accounts at all, or a credit card, or regularly use Google, then tech companies know way more about you than some conversations could divulge. They have so much data on us that they can predict when a woman is pregnant before she knows herself. They can predict when a couple is going to get divorced. They can predict disease, and the list goes on.

Algorithms are frighteningly intelligent. Once they know you they begin to show you advertisements and other content that modify your behavior without your knowing. If an algorithm determines that you’re 70% likely to get a divorce, it might show you an ad for a divorce attorney that makes it 80% likely you’ll get a divorce. We already know that Google alters its search results based on the person searching, but in the future we might see news articles change their content based on the politics of the person reading.

It’s subtle, and it’s supposed to be, but once you realize the implications it’s terrifying. It’s the slow, invisible loss of human freedom.

William Gibson predicted this in his 1984 science fiction novel Neuromancer, which was adapted into the blockbuster film The Matrix, and if you haven’t seen the film I think you should. It’s on Netflix: