Instagram is listening to you (part 2)

Damián Le Nouaille
4 min readSep 21, 2017

Before reading this, you need to read the article: Instagram is listening to you.

First of all, thank you all for the reactions: the haters, the feedbacks, the explanations and the thousand tweets and “claps”. All of your contributions help to create awareness regarding our privacy. Many media contacted me to talk about this, some guys translated it in italian and spanish. The post had way more impact than I though.

I’ll try to list the most frequent questions I faced these past weeks and hope you can understand the context and details of the story.

The story is fake and it’s not possible.

I would never take the time and risk to write something fake just to get attention. I don’t need attention on this topic, I’m not a journalist, not a professional blogger, not from any political movement trying to “break” Instagram. I really don’t care. I actually use and love Instagram. I have many active projects that are more important than creating a buzz. It’s as simple as this.

Did you search for this product before or after the discussion with your cousin?

No. I checked all my Safari mobile history, Chrome history, Amazon history. Everything. I’m 100% sure I never searched it or talk about it on any digital support.

Did your cousin search it before or after?

No. I called him immediately after all of this and he confirmed he didn’t.

When an iOS app uses the mic, you can see a red bar on top of the screen.

I already know. Shazam does this and many other apps. That’s why I’m still surprised about what happened to me.

Did you check the network traffic to intercept this piece of data?

I didn’t yet. I would love to but I need to re-create the full context to do so. If you have more information or want to do it, feel free to contact me and share your results. Charles Proxy seems a good option (I already use it to reverse-engineer API’s).

Did you use the same WiFi with your cousin?

No. We don’t have WiFi in my village. I wasn’t connected on WiFi two weeks in a row. Just 3G/4G.

It’s just social graph and affinity algorithms or “Frequency illusion”.

I work in the web industry since 10 years. I know how targeted ads work and all the variables you can mix to have the best targeting. I have other ads on Instagram and they are well targeted in general. Like related products on what I searched on Amazon, Google, talk about in private conversations. This is not new. But this weird experience about the bluetooth projector is way different. I have no affinity with my cousin. We chat on WhatsApp twice a year and we don’t really have the same life and tastes.

But Instagram is not listed in “Speech Recognition” settings in iOS

Yes it’s true. But there are many Speech Recognition SDK and services you can use without using the native iOS SDK.

It’s just a random ad and the advertiser/ad network was just super lucky to show you this product.

Yes, I don’t exclude this option. I would love this to be true.

The same thing happened to me.

I had dozens of people saying they experienced kind of the same thing with Facebook or Google products. That won’t surprise me. I would love to try this experiment again with many people in different situations but only talking about a product they never searched before.

Did you reach out to Instagram for an official statement?

No. The Huffington Post (Spain) did and Instagram obviously said they are not using the mic.

We are tracked, what’s next?

I’m not planning to go frontal against Instagram or any other companies. Our privacy is gone since a long time and our digital world is built that way. I prefer to be fully aware of this and continue my life. But we should be more educated regarding the topic. The younger generation is spending so much time on SnapChat and Instagram: we all have at least the responsibility to educate them.

Education is the real long term cure about the problem. When someone is on the point to post something weird on social networks, even in private, just ask them if they are ready to handle the probability this content will be public.

It’s a simple question that can change the behaviours of the people you care about.

You forgot to answer X, Y, Z

I probably forgot many questions and answers I just wanted to extract the most important ones. Feel free to comment here if you want me to add them in this post.


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