For several years now, Instagram users have been talking about the app listening to their conversations to show targeted ads.
There are hundreds of messages by users who claim they discussed something, typically some goods and services, with their friends or family but never googled them. Yet Instagram showed them these products in their feed or Stories as an advertisement.
Just to be clear: we don’t support conspiracy theories and won’t make any false statements. I even did an experiment talking about cherries and how I want to buy them. Talking, not googling or googling with the voice search. And after a couple of days, I saw a sponsored story offering me to buy fresh cherries with a free delivery right to my home. Some users’ stories are funnier. Scarier, even.
This stuff happened to many of you as well, I bet. That’s why let’s dig deeper into the question.
Instagram is NOT listening to you, according to its CEO
Yet with so many people experiencing this, you might find these words not convincing enough. The platform has access to your smartphone microphone, so theoretically, it could listen to and analyse what you speak and discuss.
Check if Instagram can access the mic on your device. If it does, you can have a clear experiment and turn off the access for a while. Then discuss with your friends something you want to buy as you normally would. Without googling or downloading apps that can help you purchase it, of course. After a couple of days, you probably won’t see any ads promoting the stuff you talked about. Just saying.
Instagram head, Adam Mosseri in his interview said that Instagram didn’t listen to users’ private conversations. Yet he acknowledges that many people have this issue and offered two possible explanations why we still see the ads of things we never searched for on the Internet.
First, this is “dumb luck”. Simple as that.
Another one is “you might be talking about something because it’s top of mind because you’ve been interacting with that type of content more recently. So maybe you’re really into food and restaurants. You saw a restaurant on Facebook or Instagram and you really like the thing. It’s top of mind, maybe it’s subconscious and then it bubbles up later. I think this kind of thing happens often in a way that’s really subtle.”
And Mosseri insisted that Instagram doesn’t spy. “But we don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone, doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons. But I recognize you’re not gonna really believe me.”
The Instagram algorithm might be the reason
But we’d also suggest one more reason: Instagram algorithm. These algorithms are really smart, smarter than we possibly think they are. They use artificial intelligence to generate feeds, ads and the Explore tab.
These algorithms track not only our likes, comments and video views; that would be too easy and obvious. They also detect how long we look at pictures or videos, which content we click on, which captions we read.
Storing all these data, Instagram shows us only that type of content we’ll most likely love to see. So if your Explore tab is full of videos with food, you watch them or just freeze for a second with a picture of a burger on your screen, Instagram thinks you’re interested in such and starts offering you more of such posts. Even sponsored ones.
Social media, especially Instagram and Facebook, might also know which other sites you interact with. And based on this knowledge, shows you targeted ads.
Or there might be a totally different explanation on how Instagram can actually be listening to us.
In any case, the platform will unlikely reveal what kind of technology they use and even if they use any at all.
This might be shocking that social media know about us a little too much but this is the reality we will quickly get accustomed to. The only way out is to disregard social media whatsoever but that’s almost impossible to do if you run your own business or just a regular customer.
And if you do run business and want to skyrocket it with Instagram, tools like Combin Growth and Combin Scheduler are a great help! With Combin Scheduler, you can plan your IG posts for hours, days and weeks ahead. Combin Growth will help you to build large followership, find relevant audience and influencers, and even distinguish real followers from bots.