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Technology may be stalking you

Jack Dyer
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April 18, 2016

Yesterday I had a conversation with my best friend about why Facebook succeeded where Bebo (and AOL who purchased Bebo for $850 million) didn’t.

We shared facts that neither of us knew about the situation, and marveled at one of the worst business decisions ever made; quickly turning a huge company and household name into a flailing mess.

But here's the creepy thing: Less than 24 hours after having a private conversation, Medium recommends an article that’s nearly identical. And that’s just weird.

Could it be a coincidence?

It’s not the first time it’s happened. I was tempted to put it down to coincidence, but I’ve had other “Medium Daily Digests” that seemingly listened to verbal conversations and provided articles as close to them as possible. The latest time I can recall, I was having a conversation about Yahoo. The next day I receive a digest about Yahoo, specifically about the topic I was discussing.

How and Why?

Are they using the microphone option somehow to provide relevant data? Perhaps picking up on keywords and using algorithms to detect articles relevant, then providing them?

If this is the case, then it opens an entire pallet of cans of worms. We could see this as a major breach of privacy, or potentially an incredible leap forward in technology. The applications would be global:

  • Smart Notifications: Providing relevant information in a timely fashion.
  • Marketers: Could discover what’s ‘trending’ verbally and then target it.
  • Commerce: Any company worldwide could hear what customers need and send an instant email link for them to purchase it
  • A comprehensive user experience: If apps, products and services can use this kind of technology, they can tailor their entire organisation to meet the needs of the users.
  • Crime: If anyone is able to listen to your microphone without your knowledge (or prior consent), criminals could glean all sorts of information.
  • Crime Prevention: If governing bodies are able to listen to a microphone without the device owner’s knowledge (or prior consent), criminals could be apprehended in the planning stages, before crimes are committed.

Of course, it only works (if this is even possible) because I’ve signed up to Medium daily emails. I’ve agreed to let Medium send me recommended articles, so in a way I can’t complain; it’s doing what I asked it to. Perhaps I even unknowingly agreed to let it record my conversations.


Perhaps in the terms and conditions, hidden in the dot of a letter i, could be these clauses and terms that I’ve cough* definitely read *cough. And if I’ve signed it without reading it, then that’s legally my fault — and I’ve agreed to let Medium spy on my vocal conversations.

Perhaps it’s a revolutionary step forward in providing users with more relevant data.

Perhaps it’s just a long-running and continual coincidence.

Jack Dyer
Jack is a UX Design Consultant. Advocate of Human Centred Design. Deep thinker; tea drinker; steak eater.

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