Careful, Google Is Listening

This ad appeared immediately after a VERBAL discussion about health insurance.

This ad appeared immediately after a VERBAL discussion about health insurance.

I had two very odd encounters with Google ads yesterday. It’s common for Google to push ads based on emails, as Microsoft helpfully pointed out in their “Scroogled” campaign. But usually those ads appear because of something in your email or search history. That doesn’t explain the ads I saw yesterday, as they were dead-on accurate to conversations I had held over iMessage and in person … not through Google.

First, Sarah went out of town this weekend and left me a list of to-dos around the house. One of them was to straighten the large area rug in the living room. Easy enough to do, and after I fixed it I shot her a quick text saying it was done. I then went on to a bunch of other errands, and finally crashed out last night to check my email. Across the top of Gmail was an ad for … area rugs. It was definitely an odd coincidence, but I shrugged off as a freak thing.

These are the ads the Gear Diary editors got after I shared my area rug story with them,

These are the ads the Gear Diary editors got after I shared my area rug story with them. I had the same ones, but they appeared BEFORE I sent an email about them.

Fast forward to later last night. A friend of mine dropped by to hang out, and the subject turned to the Powerball lottery. We started discussing how much we’d need to win to retire. Both of us agreed that less than $5-6 million was not enough to quit our jobs, since after taxes it wouldn’t be more than a very nice nest egg. Helpful if you’re about to retire, but since we’re both in our 30’s we would not be able to stretch that money for the rest of our lives without work. My friend also pointed out that even if we won more, it might be prudent to keep some sort of employment solely for health insurance. We discussed a few other random things, and then she headed out for the night. I checked my email before bed, and what was the ad this time? For health insurance.

Now, both of these were no doubt random coincidences. But the likelihood of two ads aimed at discussions I’d had away from Google immediately before I saw the ads? That’s a bit too accurate … as Judie pointed out, this is like something out of “1984”; is Google documenting our “thoughtcrimes”?

Have you had any particularly odd/accurate Google ads? Is Google listening? Share your experiences in the comments!

Categories: News


7 replies

  1. I think these could be coincidences….but it is possible that Apple has a deal to index your iMessage data. I guess it just depends.

    I have had weirdness mostly when I started using Google Now….but then I thought…hey I like this! Some of the things I’ve noticed after improvements to Google Now are the fact that over the weekend, when I primarily drive, the traffic part switches to driving versus public transit. It’s now smart enough to know I use public transit to commute and drive on the weekend.

    I am sure Google uses this…and my incessant playing of Ingress to get something, but Google is not alone. For example, I shop at Kroger and my favorite creamer is Coffee Mate Natural Bliss. The coupon machine spat out a dollar off purchase of two coupon. When I used it, it gave me $1.50 off of 3.

    This is all a result of Data Mining and I don’t mind it myself because it actually targets the ads to something I might actually use instead of uselessly advertising beer to me, a non-drinker.

  2. Next time click the link “why this ad?” too see why that particular ad was placed there. If they were monitoring your iMessages (that seems doubtful), their algorithm for serving ads needs to be fixed. People talking about moving their area rugs don’t need ads for them, since they already have one.

    • I tried clicking “why this ad” and it gave me a generic explanation about search terms etc.

      I doubt it was iMessage, I think it was an odd coincidence. And it’s always possible that leading up to the move Sarah emailed me about the rug and the ads are just catching up now. It was just bizarrely accurate. —
      Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

      • Carly- It is not the iMessage data-mining that is the issue. It is the fact that you just moved into one of the test houses for the Truman Show. Yes, Google sees AND hears all… Welcome to your new digs. :)

        • Lol.

          Well, it’s a great house…so I will take the trade off. We are pretty boring though. Straightening the area rug and folding laundry was the highlight of my weekend. 😉 —
          Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

  3. I actually wrote a song about this phenomenon.


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