Is Your Phone Listening To You? | A D3 Study

Apple's virtual assistant, Siri. Have you ever noticed how virtual assistants are always by default gendered as female voices?

Have you ever seen an ad and wondered how the algorithm knew to serve it? You hadn't searched for it. You hadn't seen it before.

But you had been speaking about it.

This week, D3 have undertaken rigorous and highly scientific research to find out for ourselves. We asked the team to pick a subject that they had no current interest in and talk about with their phone unlocked and apps open a few times each day.

While one may assume this was solely to hear our Senior Performance Manager, Cole, talk about how he wanted 'triplet babies' and 'nappies', this was purely in the interest of science. Our hypothesis was that the two Samsung users in the office would be served these outlandish ads, while the Apple users would not. The results are in.

83% of those surveyed did not get served their ad, however, the remaining 17% were both Apple and Samsung users.

Performance Manager and Apple user, Versheena, was served an insurance ad on Facebook after consistently talking about it.

The infamous insurance ad.

While D3 Partner and Samsung owner, Richard, was directed towards the best deals on tractors right now while scrolling through the Stuff Business section.


Interestingly, a popular topic of conversation in the office this week has been the latest releases in cinema. While Performance Director and Apple user, Venushka, chose engagement rings as his irrelevant subject, he was served a film ad.

The results were inconclusive. We did have some fairly substantial evidence to suggest that our phones are, in fact, listening to us. An important variable to bear in mind is also Apple's latest app-tracking transparency feature, meaning some members of the team had opted out of app tracking (find out more:

Even though we can't prove decisively whether or not our phones are listening to us at all times, we do know that our phones listen. Apple have publicly admitted that third-party contractors listen to interactions while Siri is engaged, and 'regularly hear confidential details'. In fact, the 'Hey Siri' wake word can even be triggered by the sound of zip closing, or most commonly, the raise of a wrist wearing an Apple watch (The Guardian).

And it's not just Apple that's doing it. In April 2019, Amazon was exposed to employ staff specifically to listen to Alexa recordings, and in July 2019, Google was revealed to be doing the same with Google Assistant. A striking example of this occurred when Siri interrupted a British MP, Gavin Williamson, discussing Syrian affairs in the House of Commons. At the time, he remarked, 'it is very rare that you're heckled by your mobile phone'.

But is it? Or, do our phones 'heckle' us every day?