back to article An attorney says she saw her library reading habits reflected in mobile ads. That's not supposed to happen

In April, attorney Christine Dudley was listening to a book on her iPhone while playing a game on her Android tablet when she started to see in-game ads that reflected the audiobooks she recently checked out of the San Francisco Public Library. Her audiobook consumption, she explained, had been highly focused the previous …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge

    Come on. We're adults. What is this hyper specific book category that can not possibly ever show up in a random ad?

    1. Dinanziame Silver badge

      And what are the chances that the lawyer simply googled for some book titles in that category recently?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        What part about "separate accounts" did you not understand?

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          "What part about "separate accounts" did you not understand?"

          The part where that's supposed to prevent Google from tracking. The devices were in the same place. They were probably on the same WiFi network. Tracking point 1: same IP address. The Android device had a game installed, probably obtained from the Play Store, point 2: probably had a Google account. There are several ways that this could make a Google search identifiable:

          1. Google saw a search from the IOS device which has no Google accounts, but they came from the same IP address, so they got associated.

          2. Google saw a search from the IOS device, which did have a Google account attached, but it wasn't the same one as the Android device, but the names on the accounts were the same and they were at the same IP address, so they got associated.

          3. The user was listening to something on the IOS device so chose to use the Android device to search, so they were attached to the same account when they searched.

          Having multiple accounts is not proof that a Google search couldn't be used to associate advertisements with the search term. That a search occurred at all is not known, but if one did happen, it wouldn't be hard for Google to use the tools we already know they have to associate that search with another device.

    2. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Come on. We're adults. What is this hyper specific book category that can not possibly ever show up in a random ad?

      She wants her privacy respected.

      1. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge

        Which is fair enough. So give us a "such as" example, or it sounds a lot like circumstantial bollocks .

        1. agurney

          So give us a "such as" example..

          I work in the hospitality industry; on my work laptop I might research a particular property, say in the Seychelles. Later, on my home computer, I start being served ads about flights to the Seychelles and where to stay. A little more than coincidence and circumstance.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            If your work laptop and personal laptop are on the same network, that's not really a surprise. IP addresses make associating activities on two computers very easily done. If your work laptop is on a different network but you've explicitly provided some information (for instance you've logged in to see your personal email or social media on it months ago), it could be due to that. This is the less surprising kind of anecdote.

            The problem is that many of these examples tell a tale which can't be explained by the known tracking methods, so the theory is that unknown tracking has occurred. The problem is that most of it is unprovable and may rely on faulty assumptions. I believe that those telling the stories are convinced that they didn't look up something on their device and nobody sharing a network or account did so, but I'm less convinced that they actually didn't. It's easy to fall into confirmation bias. There are so many conversations that don't appear in advertising, but we don't think, let alone talk, about those so it makes the stories more common. For instance, when someone tells a story of a certain ad following them around for months after a conversation, I have to wonder if they didn't have any other conversations in those months, because if it's using recorded conversations to recommend ads, you'd think it would use more than one of them.

            1. ecofeco Silver badge

              Not known? Maybe not to you.

              They are well docemented on El Reg for years.

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                "They are well docemented on El Reg for years."

                What are. You mean specific programs by specific companies to record your conversations from the devices you already have and use them to target ads? I'd like to see that documentation. But before you cite the other comments here, we're talking documentation that this thing has definitely been made and put into operation, not documentation that they might exist because something that could theoretically come from them has happened.

                Proving that something does exist is harder than proving that it could exist. Anecdotes demonstrating that it could exist can be incorrect, and it is sometimes worth considering if they are. I am not saying that Google, Facebook, or any of the other serial abusers of privacy haven't made such a thing, but I am saying that having seen an ad after talking about something related to its content is not enough to prove that they have.

            2. Roland6 Silver badge

              > The problem is that most of it is unprovable and may rely on faulty assumptions.

              Seems like this might be something AI could usefully be applied to…

              > I believe that those telling the stories are convinced that they didn't look up something on their device and nobody sharing a network or account did so, but I'm less convinced that they actually didn't.

              A review of their browsing and search histories should help here…

              I for example know that having enabled Amazon prime on my then U14 son’s Xbox many years back, I now on other devices have to confirm I (ie. An adult) is watching… but as you note as I didn’t keep a full track of my interactions, I can’t be sure the two are actually connected…

              1. sabroni Silver badge
                Boffin

                re: Seems like this might be something AI could usefully be applied to…

                "unprovable and may rely on faulty assumptions" sounds like it's already been AI generated.

                1. doublelayer Silver badge

                  Re: re: Seems like this might be something AI could usefully be applied to…

                  The rest of the comment may convince you that I didn't have an LLM write it for me. However, whether I did or not, I used those two phrases to refer to two problems with concerns about novel tracking techniques. Unprovable is a concern because, if you don't try to prove that something works the way you've described, then how do you know that it does? If you accept your theory about how something works when you cannot test it or even demonstrate that something has definitely happened at all, then why should anyone believe it happened rather than making up whatever story they like and believing that without trying to prove it.

                  The faulty assumptions lead us there and it's something that everyone is vulnerable to. We all have situations where we think something has happened when it has not. Here is an example:

                  A while ago, I opened Notepad++ on a Windows computer and a window popped up. Well visually it didn't, but I have some software monitoring for invisible windows which noted that it did, and it had a scary name: "Input capture". I've seen that window before, and it most often happens because of a remote desktop connection or a GUI VM connection. What could cause this? I was sure that I hadn't done anything unusual lately, so it clearly couldn't have been me. Maybe I had malware from somewhere. Maybe this was evil Microsoft snooping on me. Maybe someone had infiltrated Notepad++ and given me a poisoned update. Something was being done to me and I was determined to stop it. A full disk scan identified no malware, and a reboot didn't make this go away.

                  As it turns out, it was me. I had started a WSL VM in an earlier session and opened a file from that session in Notepad++. Then I rebooted, so WSL wasn't running anymore. When I tried to open Notepad++, it tried to open a path that looks like \\wsl.localhost\Ubuntu-22.04\... and that started some searching processes looking for the remote computer so I could get the file I had requested, but they didn't work because the remote computer was on my computer and I hadn't turned it on. I didn't see that because Notepad++, not getting the file it asked for, helpfully didn't open it and showed me the next one in line. That was not in my list of assumptions.

                  If you see an advertisement for something, there are lots of reasons it could have gotten there and some of them are simple enough that we don't consider them. We may assume that we never visited a page about this topic, even though we actually did and a tracker tracked us from it. This is logical because visiting one website is a really small action, especially if we just glanced over it before abandoning it as not a useful site, so it got about four seconds of our attention. We don't need to remember every little thing like that, so we forget it, and then when something crops up days later, we have forgotten that easy step. The problem with assuming something we haven't proven is that, if it's related to something we can prove, then we can stop it or at least try to. If we always assume that we have stopped all the basic web trackers, therefore any tracking we see must be due to something else, the chances are high that we haven't stopped all web trackers and we will get more done by finding the ones that slipped through.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No free lunch for you

      Why should you get that information when others are paying for it? (BTW, it would cost you much less than a penny if you bought in bulk).

    4. JulieM Silver badge

      That is her own business.

  2. rgjnk
    Big Brother

    *Audio*books

    There's one detail that the search for answers sees to have skipped over, and it's one that some people have long harbored suspicions over when it comes to interest based ad serving.

    Or maybe it's just a coincidence that audio was involved and there's some other convoluted explanation of how actions on two unrelated devices came to be linked for ads.

    (I have no opinion on the likelihood, it just seems to not be mentioned as a potential sneeky mechanism)

    1. Anna Nymous
      Black Helicopters

      Re: *Audio*books

      > Or maybe it's just a coincidence that audio was involved and there's some other convoluted explanation of how actions on two unrelated devices came to be linked for ads.

      My guess would be that whatever application she used to play the audio books is what ratted her out. It's probably something proprietary (because DRM must be enforced) that reports everything and anything that goes back to whoever made that piece of kit (as well as all the other trackers embedded in it which snitch on your activities), which in turn then gets sold. I'm relatively confident that the library is unaware of this, but that the maker of the audio book software is the one that sold that information on.

      W.r.t. your suspicions: I'm assuming what you are alluding to is the never-dying popular suspicion that "your phone is listening to you all the time, and your conversations are recorded by facebook|google|... to then serve you ads"(*)? While I classify myself as somewhat on the paranoid side of the spectrum (**), I have yet to see actual compelling evidence of audio recording of you and your conversations being live-streamed for processing by ad-slingers, as is alleged by that theory.

      (*) The mere existence of this suspicion tells you all there is to know about how trustworthy people think ad-slingers are.

      (**) And we all know that it's not because you're paranoid that they're not out to get you!

      1. DanielsLateToTheParty

        Re: *Audio*books

        I had adverts for washing machines appear on my phone a few hours after having a conversation about washing machines. I haven't seen another washing machine advert in the years since that day. Now, a coincidence is only ever a mere coincidence, but what about when there are a great many coincidences?

        Also Google is technically proficient enough to transmit and record entire conversations from every device in the world. They're more likely to employ a bloom filter of profitable keywords, sampled at random times to avoid suspicion/drain the battery.

        1. Anna Nymous

          Re: *Audio*books

          I understand your concern. But that's an anecdote. We humans are very prone to selection and confirmation bias.

          While I wouldn't be _surprised_ if the likes of google and facebook were caught doing this at all (and I'm not saying they aren't, I'm saying I haven't seen compelling evidence yet, regardless of the fact that these organizations are some of the biggest sleazebags I've ever had the misfortune of sharing a reality with), if they were then that would be a massive, massive scandal. It would also require a huge amount people and organizations to be "in" on the conspiracy, and more importantly: everyone in on this must have been keeping their mouth shut so far. This always makes me think about the saying "I love the enthusiasm of conspiracy theorists because they have clearly never been project managers, their optimism is so adorable".

          While I understand the peculiarity and specificity of your experience - and I'm not negating it at all - I think it is much more probable that other captured signals caused that advert to be shown to you, signals that are cheaper for the ad-slinger to collect. Maybe you remember the conversation about washers, but don't remember that you searched for something about washers during or before that conversation... To be clear, I'm not saying you're inaccurately relaying your experience. I'm just saying that there are other viable, and simpler explanations.

          I'm also not saying you're wrong, as mentioned at the start, I'm just saying that right now, I've yet to come across compelling evidence of devices such as phones capturing conversations when they shouldn't be in order to show you ads.

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: *Audio*books

            Your argument combines belittling language with an eyebrow-raising lack of awareness of even the various public admissions of precisely this behaviour.

            Here is a tightly-controlled (in the testing sense) data point:

            ~2yrs ago I had a conversation with 2 strangers who turned up at an isolated picnic table. We'd all gone there for lunch, and one was disabled so I suggested they join me rather than trek to the next table.

            We all had Android phones (google); the disabled girl looked at her Facebook feed as she sat down; I don't have FB.

            Their inability to find a particular bit of disability kit came up in conversation. Coupla years earlier I'd driven past a humongous disability kit importer&supplier warehouse in a town ~50km north. I recommended they try there, and told them how to get there.

            I had not been inside the warehouse, nor been within 30-40km south of it for several years. I am not disabled nor have I ever Searched for anything related; I have never before nor since been targeted for disability ads. I had not mentioned it in prior conversations nor written about it. I merely remembered it, and discussed it that ONCE with no other conversations (or buildings etc) within 100m and with someone with a single point of phone tech.difference: she had FB installed.

            As factor-isolated/controlled a real-world test environment as you're going to get.

            Starting about an hour later, and constant for the next few weeks, but never again afterwards despite discussing it repeatedly, (more than) every other online ad I saw was for & from that warehouse, that specific warehouse.

            1. Lomax

              Re: *Audio*books

              I have seen this sort of thing happen on multiple occassions - a conversation about something very specific being reflected in what ads are later shown. Anecdotal and circumstantial, sure, but I cannot deny being spooked by it. Extremely unlikely coincidences if that's all it is.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Cav Bronze badge

              Re: *Audio*books

              "Your argument combines belittling language with an eyebrow-raising lack of awareness of even the various public admissions of precisely this behaviour.".

              No, it didn't and no, it doesn't.

              Your anecdote is irrelevant and you could be mistaken\lying.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: *Audio*books

              Your anecdote doesn't prove that the conversation was being listened to, but that other shitty behaviour is going on namely: three people meet, one of whom is disabled so "the algorithm" decides that you might be disabled as well. It knows who you are because her phone sampled your phone's Bluetooth id. You got the ads an hour or two later because, as soon as the conversation finished, she Googled the address of the store you mentioned to confirm it was still there, still open etc. And the last piece in the jigsaw: the store was paying Google for ads at that time. If she'd Googled robot lawn mowers just after your meeting, you'd have probably got ads for them instead.

              1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

                Re: *Audio*books

                You're eliding Scope/context.

                What you describe is a well known chain, and is not impossible as an explanation of what happened. But it absolutely assumes your required context was unique, if you widen the context even slightly from just focussing on whether you could replicate most of just THIS situation in isolation.

                Your required context is NOT unique. It's common. It's routine.

                And yet this is the only time such a thing has happened.

                If your explanation was the driver of the event, then I would have experienced similar occurrences every coupla weeks for many years.

                I have not. Therefore your explanation is disproven for this event.

          2. DanielsLateToTheParty
            Terminator

            Re: *Audio*books

            Internet anecdotes are worth less than the paper they're written on, and will remain so until someone reverse engineers all of Google's proprietary code blobs, or decrypts the encrypted tracking data. It's possible that I only remember the conversation because of the unfortunate timing that followed it. We don't remember everything we ever said nor every advert we ever watched (or try to avoid doing do).

            In the meantime let's remember that the corporation has shown their colours before. Streetview cars collected wifi data for years, executives knew about it and did nothing until they were confronted and then chose to deny the facts.

            https://www.theregister.com/2012/04/30/google_slurp_ok/

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: *Audio*books

              Internet anecdotes are worth less than the paper they're written on, and will remain so until someone reverse engineers all of Google's proprietary code blobs, or decrypts the encrypted tracking data. It's possible that I only remember the conversation because of the unfortunate timing that followed it. We don't remember everything we ever said nor every advert we ever watched (or try to avoid doing do).

              I'll throw in my own anecdote. Some time ago, there was a discussion here on drones, RC stuff and potential shenanigans. Since then, YT keeps recommending me RC videos which I have to keep clicking 'do not show me content from this channel'. Because the algorithm and AI knows all, and AlphaGoo could not possibly give us an option to say 'I'm not interested in RC stuff'.

              But I think the article shows the real problem. Our devices are typically infested with ad trackers and 'analytics' that can be very hard to kill because that industry is determined to profile us down to the cellular level. Or even DNA level, if people have opted for any of those ancestory or health checkers. There are multiple parties involved in providing what should be a simple and anonymous service like checking out a book that shouldn't really be parties to that transaction. Especially when multiple studies have shown it can be trivial to de-anonymise what should be non-PII, if you can collect enough data.. Which of course is exactly what the data agregators do.

              1. hoola Silver badge

                Re: *Audio*books

                You only have to look at the "Functional" cookies to see the normally include stuff to link devices.

                Then you have all the legitimate interest shite with hundreds if not thousands of companies (all of very dubious origin) having access to data.

                1. JulieM Silver badge

                  Re: *Audio*books

                  The quick way to turn off all "legitimate interest" switches is to open the developer console and type this into it:

                  Z=document.getElementsByTagName("input");for(i=0;i<Z.length;++i)Z[i].checked=false

              2. Cav Bronze badge

                Re: *Audio*books

                "Ancestry" I don't know why people keep writing "Ancestory".

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: *Audio*books

              "Internet anecdotes are worth less than the paper they're written on"

              And so is the word or promise of Google, Amazon, Apple, Oracle... They even openly seek to not comply with many laws. So why expect they'd keep a very hard (often requiring near full access to company proprietary info) to proof wrong claim or promise they make?

          3. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: *Audio*books

            > But that's an anecdote. We humans are very prone to selection and confirmation bias.

            However, it is known and can be readily proved, that if you hover or click on an ad, you will see further ads on that topic…

            We also know that social media is very good at amplification - a problem that has been repeatedly raised over children who have investigated something and then been unable to stem the follow of “you looked at this/had a lot of ad previously on this, thus you must be interested in receiving more of the same” content.

        2. Inkey
          Unhappy

          Re: *Audio*books

          Seem to recal a patent a few years ago from then facebolloks .. where an inaudable tone was generated from your viewing device during an add of a fb custumer.... if said viewer was also connected to fb the tone would enable a feature that would record audio to gauge the viewers intetest it advertsed product.... reported here on elReg

          In other news, all this "ablah" about privacy is a joke ... you can block all the 3rd party tracking,pixels, js, etc you want and still be profiled by the people you associate with who don't care about it. (Got nothing to hide)

          I thought it was a known fact that law enforcement around the world had acess to peoples library info since the 80's

        3. Persona

          Re: *Audio*books

          I have less confidence in Google's proficiency than you. Every time I use YouTube I get shown the same cringe worthy advert about some crap bank account that earns you £5 per month ... for the first 6 months. I'm not dumb enough to switch bank account for a £30 offer, yet the evidence of being served this add many dozens of times suggests Google either knows very little about me or simply doesn't care. At the end of the day it doesn't matter that much to Google. They get paid for slinging adds at people they "claim" are good targets. If they only got paid if the customer clicked through and eventually completed the transaction then it might be a different matter.

          1. Killfalcon Silver badge

            Re: *Audio*books

            The purpose of the targeting data is to get some advertisers to pay more for access to users the advertiser thinks will buy their product.

            It doesn't exist to block ads you won't like. If you are in a demographic that spends a bunch of money on relatively specialised things, targeted ads can drown out the lowest-common-denominator bollocks, but if you don't look* like someone advertisers will pay *extra* to talk to, you'll just get the trash.

            * 'look' here is in terms of google's algo assigning you keywords that the advertisers separately decide they want.

            1. Persona

              Re: *Audio*books

              The other YouTube advert I get a lot is for a brand of sanitary towel. As I'm the wrong side of 60 I'm pretty sure that they shouldn't put me in a demographic needing that. I'm male too.

        4. EveryTime

          Re: *Audio*books

          I started getting mattress ads soon after having a discussion and looking up 'purple mattress' in an incognito window.

          Not just a few ads, it was the dominant subject for weeks.

          Despite being pretty certain that it couldn't be the case, I did harbor suspicion that it was the fault of an Echo Dot in the room where the conversation had taken place. In retrospect, with knowledge only gained later, it was very likely Google monitoring incognito mode in Chrome and selling the info exactly as if it wasn't incognito mode.

          My experience was probably amplified by being unreasonably careful about leaking such info. With relatively few marketable interests revealed, the ads I got had a very limited range. That made it obvious that someone was selling info that I thought had been kept private.

          1. Casca Silver badge

            Re: *Audio*books

            incognito in chrome isnt as incognito as you think.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: *Audio*books

              Incognito in chrome isn't. as incognito as you think.

              Please review any changes and re-submit. Thank you.

        5. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: *Audio*books

          I had adverts for washing machines used cars appear on my phone a few hours within an hour after having a conversation about washing machines car trouble. I haven't seen another washing machine car advert in the years since that day. Now, a coincidence is only ever a mere coincidence, but what about when there are a great many coincidences?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tl;dr but...

    merca and our great democracies kind of do this stuff...

    were there a button that could be pressed that would prevent them being dropped into a bottomless pit, how many here would press it?

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: tl;dr but...

      There is a very well known thought from Brendan Behan years ago ... that only needs a minor update to describe today's world - "Data critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves."

  4. ChoHag Silver badge

    Not a good move

    You pissed off a lawyer ...

    > "I listen to the books on my iPhone and ... I play games on my Android tablet at night when I'm listening

    ... with a lot of time on her hands.

    Where's the popcorn icon?

    1. SVD_NL Silver badge

      Re: Not a good move

      "... you're trying to tell me someone actually read our privacy policy?!?!?!? RED ALERT!!!! RED ALERT!!!!"

      1. Alumoi Silver badge

        Re: Not a good move

        Nahh, the panic will set in when somebody understrands that policy.

        1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

          Re: Not a good move

          It will set in when a precedent is set: Ts & Cs which it is impractical for a reasonable person to comprehend in the interval between being shown them and being asked to accept them are void. Ts & Cs that you actively have to seek out else not shown, with the option to just press an "Accept" button, likewise void.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not a good move

        NOBODY reads the privacy policy, including those people who write them...

        1. notyetanotherid
          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Not a good move

            Sure, but what's the intersection of people who read policies, and people who aren't interested in wine? I'm in that set.

  5. DS999 Silver badge

    Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

    If she's listening to audiobooks WHILE playing a game, some sort of audio watermarking in the audiobooks themselves might be how the gaming app determined what ads to show her.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

      Ah yes, the kind of person that sees five stones alongside a much-used walking trail, one balanced atop another forming a tower, and says "Isn't nature amazing? How'd that happen?"

      1. Zack Mollusc

        Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

        Would you be the type of person who looks at a computing device with microphones, cameras, gps, internet access and an operating system and applications provided by companies who can make money selling your information and say "Whelp, can't possibly be that spying on me, must be psychics to blame."?

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          I dunno. I feel like if there was audio-data tracking, someone would have found it already.

          Phone microphones are not very good, so any 'hidden' tone they can pick up should stand out on an oscilloscope. Some audiophile youtuber would have tripped over it when trying to eliminate background noise, surely.

          Also it'd require android's permission-by-app system around microphones to be broken, which, someone at Defcon would have cracked years ago.

          1. Lomax
            Boffin

            Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

            > I feel like if there was audio-data tracking, someone would have found it already.

            They did.

            The ultrasonic pitches are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser. While the sound can't be heard by the human ear, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it. When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product.

            https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/11/beware-of-ads-that-use-inaudible-sound-to-link-your-phone-tv-tablet-and-pc/

            Academics in the US have developed an attack dubbed NUIT, for Near-Ultrasound Inaudible Trojan, that exploits vulnerabilities in smart device microphones and voice assistants to silently and remotely access smart phones and home devices.

            https://www.theregister.com/2023/04/04/siri_alexa_cortana_google_nuit/

            Ultrasound Sensing uses your Google Nest device's speakers and microphones to determine whether a person is approaching the device. Your device's speaker will emit soft, inaudible ultrasonic pulses. These pulses are reflected off of nearby objects in the room and the microphones detect these reflections.

            https://support.google.com/googlenest/answer/9509981?hl=en-GB

            The patent application describes a system where an audio fingerprint embedded in TV shows or ads, inaudible to human ears, would trigger the phone, tablet or long-rumoured smart speaker to turn on the microphone and start recording “ambient audio of the content item”. The recording could then be matched to a database of content to allow Facebook to identify what the individual was watching – like Shazam for TV, but without the individual choosing to activate the system.

            https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/28/facebook-patent-phone-mic-listening-tv-shows

            With built-in ultrasonic detecting abilities, your [Amazon] Echo can do more than just respond to questions. It can act like a smart motion sensor and perform tasks such as turning on lights or air conditioning, as well as alerting you to intruders, without your having to buy extra sensors that take up space and burn through batteries.

            https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/amazon-echo-hidden-motion-sensor/

            In this paper we evaluate the innate ability of mobile phone speakers to produce ultrasound and the possible uses of this ability for accurate indoor positioning. The frequencies in question are a range between 20 and 22 KHz, which is high enough to be inaudible but low enough to be generated by standard sound hardware. A range of tones is generated at different volume settings on several popular modern mobile phones with the aim of finding points of failure. Our results indicate that it is possible to generate the given range of frequencies without significant distortions, provided the signal volume is not excessively high.

            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224198839_Investigating_ultrasonic_positioning_on_mobile_phones

            In this paper, we present BatNet, a data transmission mechanism using ultrasound signals over the built-in speakers and microphones of smartphones. Using phase shift keying with an 8-point constellation and frequencies between 20--24kHz, it can transmit data at over 600bit/s up to 6m.

            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343415125_BatNet_Data_transmission_between_smartphones_over_ultrasound

            To demonstrate this technology, I recorded such a beacon being broadcast in my lounge room while watching Netflix. In the below image you can see the audio ends around the 15kHz mark with the ultrasonic beacon beginning at 20kHz, the point at which average human hearing ends.

            https://theconversation.com/how-silent-signals-from-your-phone-could-be-recording-and-tracking-you-94978

            Google Nearby enables Android phone users who are in close proximity to each other to connect their devices and share data, such as documents or media. Google says: To share and collaborate in apps, Nearby uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and inaudible sound to detect devices around your device. (Some people can hear a short buzz.)

            https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/your-phone-is-listening-to-things-you-cant-even-hear/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          I listen to music from a PC with wired over the ear headphones several feet away from my android phone. I do not play the music loud however my phone is able to determine from the sound what song I am listening to. My phone is old and needs replacing so my assumption is the newer phones record better.

    2. Anna Nymous
      Boffin

      Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

      It's much simpler than that.

      The gaming app does not know which ads to show to its player, it also has no control over that, nor any desire to control it. It just wants to make money by selling its eyeballs. Therefore it has offloaded that task to the ad networks.

      Those ad networks have almost certainly purchased the information about this individual from the audio book app (and of course a variety of other places) and then correlated that the audio book user is the same as the game player via a variety of means (shared IP addresses, location proximity, (e-mail) accounts tied to both devices, etc...)

      That is most likely how the data flowed between things.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

        The article lists the audio book apps involved.

        Exactly one of them refused to engage with the victim or journalist.

        I think we have our answer.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          Yes. From the article: "Baker & Taylor did not respond to repeated requests for comment".

          I think it's a good idea to cross B&T off your list of acceptable vendors, and Boundless from the list of acceptable library ebook apps.

          I've never used Boundless; I've actually only tried a library ebook app once, and after a few minutes of browsing didn't find anything I wanted to download, so I haven't bothered since. Between Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle1 I just haven't had the need. And I find browsing physical books in the library greatly preferable to browsing ebooks online.

          But if I do end up using library ebook apps in the future, I know Boundless won't be one of them.

          1I dislike Amazon and the Kindle app is abominable, but I find myself using it because I do like the e-ink Kindle hardware (so much better than LCD for reading ebooks), and consequently now I have a library of Kindle ebooks and some audiobooks for long car trips. So I continue using it for the convenience. Yes, it's all a bit hypocritical on my part.

    3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

      Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

      Doesn't need to be anything that complicated. The game app just reads the data stored on the phone by the audiobook app and then it's got playlists and everything. Or the audiobook app company simply sells the user's data and the advertising company that serves ads to the game app buy that data.

      Yes, there are all sorts of privacy policies and app permission settings meant to prevent this, but I don't trust their effectiveness, or their honesty.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

        How is an Android game app reading the data stored on an iPhone?

        Yeah it could be (and that's probably the most likely explanation) that one or more of the audiobook app developers is selling her reading list, but presumably she would want to know for sure - then she could quit using the offending app. Of course, an app that isn't selling your information today could start tomorrow, and the app isn't going to notify you of that change.

        I was just posing an alternate scenario where even if the audiobook apps were all doing the right thing there are always going to be ways for data hungry advertisers to get the data they're hungry for.

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          In theory, the game's permissions could extend to the filesystem. That should be visible in the permissions screen, even if it's easily assumed to be for writing save files or whatever.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

            Maybe you missed the part where it is TWO SEPARATE DEVICES in question here. They don't have a common filesystem, or even a common OS. So whether the game could access the filesystem or not is totally irrelevant, as it still couldn't access the audiobook information unless the audiobooks were installed and used the same tablet that the games were.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

        The game app just reads the data stored on the phone by the audiobook app...

        Honestly, people. Try reading for comprehension. They were separate devices, signed into separate accounts.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          "Try reading for comprehension."

          Can't do that, it gets in the way of a good rant based on preconceived notions (or just plain ol' trolling ...).

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

          What boggles my mind is that most people don't realize that when it comes to the Internet, go ogle (Amazon, Apple, the NSA, ECHELON, whathaveyou) know everything by IP address, and don't give a fuck about accounts for the first approximation. Second approximation would be MAC address.

          Link, then machine, then (maybe) user.

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Can the game access the tablet's microphone?

      But Siri or Alexa will also be listening to those audio books…

  6. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Land of the Free

    The Feds, under the US Patriot Act, demanded library patron information without a warrant and imposed a lifetime gag order that forbade disclosure of the NSL.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Land of the Free

      Just the name should send an Orwellian shiver up your spine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Land of the Free

        Land of the Free? Yeah, it does.

      2. Marty McFly Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Land of the Free

        You mean like George Orwell's epic tome "1984"? The same book that was blanket purged from individual's Kindle devices in 2009, after they had purchased it?

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Land of the Free

          It's Nineteen Eighty-Four — Orwell hated it when publishers put the title in numerals on the cover, and the actual title has it spelled out — and it is in no way an epic. Whatever its merits (and, yes, it has them), it's closer to a novella than a novel, with a single straightforward plot line and very conventional narrative structure.

          As for that 2009 incident,1 Amazon was compelled to remove copies of a specific release of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from devices because they were unlicensed and had been released in the Kindle store by a vendor illegally. Now, Amazon still carries a healthy share of the blame, since they created the "self-service" portal for the Kindle store in the first place and weren't policing the store; and they most certainly could have handled it better. But they really didn't have a lot of choice about the removal itself.

          1See e.g. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html.2

          2The Times got the title wrong too. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you.

    2. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

      Re: Land of the Free

      All remaining provisions of USA PATRIOT Act expired in 2020.

      Doesn't mean some of them weren't snuck into some form of reincarnation under even more sinister things like FISA.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A centuries worth of privacy rights wiped out in a decade or two of progress

    If she checked it out from her library, the library only forwards her request to the audio book publisher, who allows the download along with a lot of tracking and copyright monitoring.

  8. wknd
    WTF?

    > Dudley said she typically listens to 30 to 40 audiobooks a month, most of which are fiction

    I just checked on Audible : the shortest audiobook I have is 9 hours long. Event at 1.5 speed, it's 6 hours.

    How is it possible to listen to 30 to 40 audiobooks a month when there is only 30 periods of 24 hours in a month?

    Is there a special genre of audiobooks, like comics, where there's a series of very short episodes?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I am in a small minority, and I don't know exactly how small, who can and like to speed things up a lot more than that. My typical speed rating is 3 to 5 times normal, with the lower numbers usually happening because software for speeding up past 300% is rarer and sometimes of low quality. It makes listening to things very convenient when an hour-long show becomes fifteen minutes. Maybe this lawyer is also one of those.

      People who need to read fast have been known to train themselves to do this. My reason for doing it is that I'm blind, so everything in my life reports things by talking to me. The faster it can do that, the faster I can get things done. For example, when I read comments here, the screen reader I'm using is set to speak at about 650 words per minute. Those who have not been doing this for decades tend to find it incomprehensible.

      1. stiine Silver badge
        Joke

        ah, the memories...

        You must hate people like me, and with good reason... I was that kid with an Amiga 1000 who discovered that if you fed a string of consonants to its speech engine, it would say each letter; bcdf would become bee cee dee eff, but if you stuck a vowel on the end... dcdcdce would become ducaducaduca. Oh the obscene sounds I could generate...I miss being 16.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        While it is possible to speed it up, it seems unlikely that she's listening to an audiobook at 2x or higher at the same time she's playing a game, unless it is basically background noise as another suggested and she's relying on some sort of learning by osmosis theory.

      3. amajadedcynicaloldfart

        @a/c

        +10 words per second and you can make sense of it? And you can make sense of the words? Really?

        I don't believe you.

        Well, that's my 2 and a bit seconds worth!

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
          WTF?

          I read text using my eyes at that kind of speed, and I'm one of the around 30-50% of people who "hears" what they read.

          Why wouldn't someone blind be able to do the same with their screen reader?

          There are many things people can do if they practice a lot.

        2. silent_count

          @amajadedcynicaloldfart

          I obviously don't know A/C but I do occasionally chat with a blind gent who works in IT. (As a side note, he is highly sought after because of his interest in making accessibility better for people with bad or no slight, having the technical knowledge, and a knack to make feasible suggestions to get there).

          Since he can't see, his phone reads to him whatever text is on the screen. Now I'm Australian, and a native English speaker, but his phone speaks so fast that I can not grasp what's being said... and he's able to parse it just fine. I don't know how many WPM it's at but to me it sounds like an audiobook played way too fast to be comprehensible.

          I think with practice you can comprehend faster and faster speech but most of us are luckily in a position where we don't need to develop that skill.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            I think with practice you can comprehend faster and faster speech but most of us are luckily in a position where we don't need to develop that skill.

            But.. lawyers. Lots of 'paperwork' to go through for research or case prep. And billable hours. Plus lots of dictation for some law clerk (or software) to transcribe. So I guess if you can compress time down to 10mins, but still bill for an hour, there's a decent incentive to develop that skill.

          2. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            You could probably train that skill just by listening to some American podcasts, where they seem to talk so quickly that it's a wonder they have any time to even breathe.

        3. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          When you read a line of text, do you trace it with your finger and mouth each word out loud, or, do you do as most people who have been reading all their adult life do, and read a line in a couple of seconds, with internal monologue voicing each word? Look at that line of text - how long did it take to read, and how many words was it? 10 words a second sounds about right to me, for a moderately fast reader, so why not for a fast listener.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I understand your skepticism, but yes, that's actually what I do. Just to check, I had my speech synthesizer speak your comment to an audio file at the speed I use. Total time of 2.262 seconds. Of course, I can't prove that I really did that without having a call with you and demonstrating it, but I think you can probably find videos of other people doing the same thing. I am far from unique, and I know a few people who turn the rate up even higher than I do.

    2. FelixReg

      One plus book a day?

      Yes, that 1-a-day jumped out.

      Sure, she could be cranking the speed up, or she might be someone who *needs* (!) background talk. Junk fiction can give it to her.

      Also, she could be *starting* a book a day, but rejecting them if the first chapter doesn't get the story rolling. I do that with audio books. Now-days, like with music, you can have an endless stream of novels of any genre.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      She didn't say she listens to 30 to 40 audiobooks in their entirety in a month.

      I'm always in the midst of at least half a dozen books. Some people prefer to read serially; some prefer to read in parallel. (I recall one summer as a lad when I checked 13 novels out from the library and returned them all a week later, having finished the lot. I believe that at one point I had started all of them and not yet finished any.)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It started with the Beatles

    Now we’re ALL for sale.

    1. stiine Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: It started with the Beatles

      You're only just realizing this? I've know this for 40 years. Your phone companies have been selling you forever.

    2. Wade Burchette

      Re: It started with the Beatles

      Let me tell you how it will be

      There's one ad for you, nineteen for me

      'Cause I'm the ad-man

      Yeah, I'm the ad-man

      Should five percent of the webpage appear too small

      Be thankful I don't take it all

      'Cause I'm the ad-man

      Yeah, I'm the ad-man

      If you drive a car, I'll put an ad on the street

      If you try to sit, I'll put an ad above your seat

      If you get too cold, I'll put an ad for heat

      If you take a walk, I'll put an ad for your feet

      'Cause I'm the ad-man

      Yeah, I'm the ad-man

      Don't ask me what I need your personal information for

      If you don't want me to track you some more

      'Cause I'm the ad-man

      Yeah, I'm the ad-man

      Now my advice for those who die

      Deactivate your Google account before you go bye

      'Cause I'm the ad-man

      Yeah, I'm the ad-man

      And you're living for nobody but me

    3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: It started with the Beatles

      "You will do as you are told.

      Until the rights to you are sold."

      - F. Zappa

  10. MachDiamond Silver badge

    How much data was asked

    On the form she likely filled out when signing up at the library? Let's also consider that libraries are often struggling for funds so it's not far fetched to believe they would be "sharing" checkout data with their "partners" to receive much needed funds.

    Many people will happily and very conscientiously fill out any form hand them on a clipboard. Obviously, we want to do things properly and if we get a reward, access to the library, if we do, there's the incentive. Early in life I was taught to tell the truth and I didn't get taught how/where to lie in later life nearly as vigorously. Nor was I instructed how to know when I chose one over the other. It's often too much work to analyze so I just lie continuously when asked anything remotely personal where I'm not under oath or where my freedom and view of the sky might be immediately revoked. When I do think about it, I find it plain to see that there often isn't a value to me to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So, no point.

    In the case of a library card, how much checking are they going to do? Do they really need your mobile number, email address and date of birth? Your phone number is the most sensitive. It's the modern day universal ID number that only short of being required to be tattooed on your forearm. Once they have that, it's easy enough to spend £4.99 to have everything about you. (£19.99 without a subscription). Lucky for me I don't so much have a bedroom as a library with a bed in it and that's only the half of it. Sell the books off when I die and there will be the money and materials to build my mausoleum. I hope the inscriptions are spelled correctly. Stone doesn't auto-correct.

    1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

      Re: How much data was asked

      Except that, as the article states, it is explicitly not permitted for the library to do that. Asking someone to sign an agreement that requires something from them that you are legally not allowed to ask for is known as an unenforceable contract term (or similar, IANAL), and just because they agreed to it doesn't make it permitted.

      For example, you could agree to allow me to harvest all your organs, while you are still alive. Even though you have agreed, if I were to go ahead and start cutting you up, I'd still be committing various crimes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How much data was asked

      I was taught to tell the truth regardless. If a field asks for something sensitive, I'll leave that blank. (Last several doctor's offices haven't so much as blinked when I didn't provide SSN. They don't need it and they know it.)

      If it's a "required" field, with no way around it, I'll put in something that any human will immediately recognize as bogus.

      For the real user at nope@notachance.com, I apologize for the spam...

  11. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Being signed in to two different Google accounts on two devices doesn't mean Google won't work out they are connected, especially if both devices connect to the same network, the devices are in the same location, and the name registered on the account is the same.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Being signed in to two different Google accounts on two devices doesn't mean Google won't work out they are connected,"

      Oh, you might be surprised how often they connect up accounts. You only have to make one mistake and they have you since it's not humans making the connection, it's computers that are looking for that sort of thing. Netflix and other subscription companies are always getting better at knowing which accounts are being shared outside of a family. Again, one mistake and you're nicked. Law enforcement uses similar techniques to find cartel bosses through cell phone use. If you don't employ a burner phone perfectly, they'll connect up the real accounts and people. I've read some interesting accounts about that sort of thing. If it's of interest to law enforcement, it's also likely going to be something that Google can sell at a profit.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Christine Dudley was listening to a book on her iPhone while playing a game on her Android tablet

    Gave away a piece of personal information there. Age < 30 years. :)

    After thirty you can not perform two tasks, that use two separate senses, concurrently - or you have acquired enough common sense to realize you never could. :)

    I don't understand why audiobooks have apparently become so popular - can't people read? Most reasonably literate people read text faster than it can be spoken... and you can skim over the boring bits or quickly skip back to the interesting or difficult parts. :)

    Radio plays (now probably a defunct form) are an exception - like stage plays or screen plays, performance is an integral part of the form.

    1. FelixReg

      Re: Christine Dudley was listening ...

      "I don't understand why audiobooks..."

      In your car. Turn an awful commute in to an enjoyable part of the day.

      Also, good audio books are read by actors, acting. Sometimes more than one actor, but usually one doing all the character voices.

    2. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Christine Dudley was listening to a book on her iPhone while blah blah your title is too long

      I'm pretty sure that I passed the 30 milestone some years back (unless the last x years have been a horrible, horrible dream), and I still frequently play computer games on one device while listening to/watching something streaming on the TV on the other side of the room, quite often whilst also keeping an eye on messages coming in on my phone. Perhaps you don't have the mental agility to do this, but the idea that it is somehow reserved for under 30s is a frankly bizarre misapprehension.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Christine Dudley was listening to a book...

      I commonly play Killer Sudoku while listening to other people. I'm only 2B... oh, in decimal?

      Seriously, I've been doing it for years. Talking to my parents while playing Starcraft, listening while playing Killer Sudoku (Extreme mode takes a bit more concentration), having full conversations while playing something mindless like a Diner Dash clone. What I can't do is read and listen to anything with words simultaneously. (Uses the same part of the brain.)

      Used to listen to audiobooks during my commute, but changed employers and it's a lot shorter now.

  13. T. F. M. Reader

    Mysteries

    The idea that a smartphone's mic on the coffee table in the living room will pick up the sound from the TV to determine what program/channel one is watching and use the information to target advertising is well known and has been observed in the wild. If the lady did not use headphones while listening to her audiobooks there was no need for anyone selling her library records - the tablet's microphone would be up to the task on its own.

    What I find a lot more mysterious (and suspicious?) is someone who supposedly has an iPhone and an Android tablet. This combination is rarely observed in the wild, and my nasty suspicious mind tells me there is a chance - merely a chance, mind you! - that it was invented to avoid the obvious claim that (Apple|Google) know everything about you anyway.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Mysteries

      If she is using the android tablet for books (in all forms) etc. this makes a lot of sense, as it probably also makes it easier to transfer stuff to the (Windows) PC…

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Mysteries

        Android tablets are rarely observed in the wild. A lot of people have iPads as their only Apple device.

        1. Roj Blake Silver badge

          Re: Mysteries

          Lots of people have Android tablets but refer to them as iPads.

          1. katrinab Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: Mysteries

            I don't think I've ever actually seen one outside of a demo unit in a shop.

    2. Cav Bronze badge

      Re: Mysteries

      "supposedly has an iPhone and an Android tablet"

      I do.

  14. pip25
    Big Brother

    Not surprised at all

    About a week ago, I saw Reddit recommending me an article about someone claiming to have solved the "P = NP" problem. I'm no mathematician, and have not come across this topic for long years, if not decades, having learned about it back at university. I'm not that interested in the complexity topic either, though this in particular caught my attention, as I remembered it was a hard problem people were trying to solve for some time now.

    I've only checked out the Reddit comments on the article, spent about a minute on that page, then left, soon forgetting about the whole thing... until, a day or two later, "P = NP" suddenly appeared on my page of recommended YouTube videos.

    My browser (Vivaldi) has ad and tracker blocking enabled. But the topic had so little to do with what I usually watch on YouTube, I have a hard time believing it to be a coincidence.

  15. ecarlseen
    Big Brother

    Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

    "OverDrive does not sell user information..."

    Ok, so they don't sell user information. Do they trade it? Lend it? Give it away?

    Or do they sell group information with the users packaged into groups based on lists of identifiers provided by a third party? Same effect, but technically not "selling user information."

    Do they sell "anonymized" information, packaged in a way that can be de-anonymized? Keep in mind that preventing de-anonymization is insanely difficult.

    Unless you're willing to really nail down a company's language on the subject of privacy, there are all kinds of loopholes they can work with.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

      "Keep in mind that preventing de-anonymization is insanely difficult."

      That depends a great deal on the data set and how unique the people in it are. If you are talking about a cohort that has a rare genetic condition, it might be very easy to identify that person with the data being offered and no good way to prevent it without making the data worthless.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

      "Ok, so they don't sell user information. Do they trade it? Lend it? Give it away?"

      They "share" it with their "partners". A bit of word smithing so it sounds more palatable.

      While Google does sell PII, they also sell ads based on the PII they've collected to target the advertising. The ad client isn't buy the data, but the practical application of that data and very likely what they would have done with it anyway. The difference is price and PII isn't all that expensive these days.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

      Then of course, some people straight-up lie about not selling user information. Not suggesting that this is happening here, but it does happen, frequently.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

        The Google Play Store entry for my step counter plainly states that they don't collect user info. The actual privacy policy lists the kinds of companies they sell the collected data to.

        My firewall keeps them honest.

    4. Chet Mannly

      Re: Pay attention to the wording - think like an attorney or barrister.

      PressReader refused to answer any questions from either the lawyer or the journo. Pretty sure that's your culprit, rather than one of the others playing legal word games...

  16. Nameless Dread

    Remedies?

    Has anyone anything to say about DuckDuckGo, uBlock, Privacy Badger, Tampermonkey, etc ? (other brands are available).

    (Satisfied smirk - so far. But then, I don't do audio books.)

    .

    1. JoeCool Silver badge

      Re: Remedies?

      Well no, that's like worrying about how to silence the nuclear icbm alert, instead of finding shelter.

      The point isn't that there's and ad. The point is the presumed spying that resulted in the ad.

  17. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Last week I was reading a book - a paper book - where a character discusses the Justinian riots in Constantinople. This morning in my Quora feed there was a discussion of the Justinian riots in Constantinople. Other than a vague thought "I should look this up when I've finished reading" I've *never* read or known anything about the Justinian riots in Constantinople. DOO doo du du DOO doo du du...

    1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

      The thing about coincidences, is that it would be weird if they never happened at all (due to the nature of randomness). However, if you started getting several adverts relating to the Justinian riots in Constantinople, shortly after reading about it, you'd probably have reasonable grounds to dismiss coincidence and become suspicious.

      Whilst the odds of two random events coinciding in some meaningful way, are way higher than people might think (due to the sheer number of things that can coincide, and their constant occurrence), the odds of a third thing then coinciding with both of those is very tiny, and if you add a fourth, or even fifth thing all lining up along the same line of coincidence, the odds that it actually is a coincidence are practically zero.

      If two very unlikely things coincide, such a very specific book topic, and a very specific advert on the exact same topic, the odds of coincidence are, I would say, also very low in this case, especially when you have reasonable grounds to suspect that those are targeted adverts.

    2. Chet Mannly

      Where did you obtain said book? The fact you bought/borrowed it and the title would be plenty of info for targeting.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        I bought it in Oxfam in February when waiting for the dentist.

        People have done actual research on these sorts of coincidences, it was described in one of the Science of Discworld books.

  18. LybsterRoy Silver badge

    Is it just me or are all the articles very long today?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    amount of visitor-tracking scripts on many library websites

    the reason, I think, is the constant cutting back on funding provided to public services, including libraries, this is what I've been observing over the last 20 years and I doubt it started 20 years ago... They're bled of funds and demanded to maintain and update their provision so, like in education, they grab whatever means are available, including the poison of FREE!!! (I'm not in the library business, but I've been a patron in quite a few countries, and I see the same pattern everywhere). Another step in this endless 'cost optimization' from above is when they get rid of senior librarians, who _definitely_ know their stuff and are, generally, extremely useful to a researcher, and swap them for low-paid, demotivated staff (unpaid volunteers welcome!). Something's gotta give. But then, what's new?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Baker & Taylor did not respond to repeated requests for comment

    two potential reasons for this, one, less likely, is the google reason (to big to bother), the other, much more likely, a senior manager intervened: 'you do NOT answer emails on that subject / from these people, am I being clear'.

  21. b1k3rdude

    This is why I have local and (per-app where applicable) ad blocking on all my devices and network blocking via pihole on my lan.

  22. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    ISP?

    Maybe they have an ISP that are assholes like AT&T, who default to placing customers in "personalized plus" if they don't opt out. They sniff web, app, and video traffic to glean what web sites you're going to (the legal agreement specifically states they also attempt to infer this for encrypted connections); precise location info; race age and gender; and CPNI (call records), so they can sell your private info to advertisers.

  23. Twaswiz

    Privacy is dead

    There are so many pitfalls and hazards, the only sensible option is to give up on letting information leak, Instead of blocking the leaks, block the adverts it is easier and who wants any ads anyway?

  24. Barry Rueger

    Missing the point folks.

    I'm not really interested in nit-picking various people's suspicions, though I'm inclined to think, "If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck."

    What this long comment thread demonstrates is that none of us has a clear idea of how, and by whom, we're being watched, or where that data ends up.

    I don't trust Google or Meta, or the rest of them, and assume that EVERYTHING that I do on-line can be tapped by someone.

  25. martinusher Silver badge

    An Open Secret

    The mechanism for collecting, aggregating, collating and using -- selling -- user information is well known but for some reason appallingly badly documented. Maybe ElReg should come up with a definitive guide to data brokering, ad sales and information collection? Most people are vaguely aware that its not just reading habits that get collected -- "Taken Down and Used Against You".

    Making piecemeal privacy laws won't stop the game, either. It just makes work for the working man/woman to do and provides opportunities for even more data. For example -- I avoid European websites because they're always asking me to click on privacy preferences.........really dumb that, its giving yet more information to the damn Borg!

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Try this - proof of audio spying

    I did this (3 years ago) you can too, just pick something very unique.

    I talked about BLUE GUITARs for a test, never typed it in any place at all. Less than a week I was seeing advertisements for guitars that were blue on pages I frequent. I have no Mic on my PC, but I do have an iPhone.

    Try it yourself, pick a "very specific thing" that you have never searched for, talk about it in front of electronics, never type it in. I bet you see a ton of that item in adds withing 48 hours.

    Then have fun figuring out where it was harvested from. And know that whoever is advertising it to you - bought the information and knows who you are (as number and not a name - so its not 'personal information')

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Try this - proof of audio spying

      You're not alone in thinking that you're being eavesdropped on. I'm relatively safe -- and boring -- because I use my mobile like an old fashioned POTS. My daughter, OTOH, has a large amount of her life on her phone and has noticed on several occasions things mentioned in conversation coincidentally turning up in adverts shortly afterwards.

      The weakness in all this is I don't think anyone does anything with on-line adverts except ignore them. Where it all goes pear shaped is when this information is used to influence people -- to spy on them and guide (nudge?) them towards approved thoughts and behaviors.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Try this - proof of audio spying

        " My daughter, OTOH, has a large amount of her life on her phone"

        Better talk to her about that. It's like being held up for your debit card and threatened to hand over your PIN, only worse. To verify the PIN, they need an ATM. If you are forced to unlock your phone, they can do that right on the spot and then plug in a device to keep the phone unlocked and charged. With the phone unlocked, how much will the perp have access to? Since you have everything on your phone, do you know who to call to shut down access to your bank accounts, one-click shopping apps, etc? Or, is all of that info on the phone, which you no longer have. Having your debit card taken from you is a problem as well, but in my family, we all have the accounts that are accessible by the debit card only stocked up with enough for daily/monthly purposes. We have other accounts that are very definitely NOT accessible by that card. We don't use our phones for banking. I don't use my phone for payments, but my sister does and uses the separate account as the source of funds so eggs aren't all in one basket.

  27. EBG

    I am noticing

    every media article referencing restrictions on the age at which school children are giving information on gender issues is now labelling the restrictions as " politically motivated". As if the Marxist derived "critical gender theory" which is now being kicked back against was not political.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Marxist derived "critical gender theory"

      Five words and you don't understand any of them, impressive.

  28. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

    One plausible explanation?

    I've long suspected that the Alphabet services on Android devices are actively listening and categorising conversations. Why do I think this? Because very specific conversations had in private, in the presence of Android phones have coincided with equally specific adverts, where the subject of those conversations have never entered into a computer, e.g. by including that subject in search terms on Google.

    I've experienced this a few times myself, and anecdotally heard about it happening to many others. The obvious conclusion (be it right or wrong) is that your phone is listening to you, and those conversations are going off to a data centre somewhere to be categorised so that ads can be "personalised" to you.

    It's not beyond the realms of possibility here, then, that the audio books being played on one device (the iPhone) are being snooped by services running on the other device (the Android tablet) and are being used to categorise unwanted adverts via this snooping. In essence, it's a side-channel attack on privacy.

    Of course, this is pure conjecture, and proving any of this would be even harder than untangling the various information leakage supposedly going on through the straightforward channels.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: One plausible explanation?

      "Why do I think this? Because very specific conversations had in private, in the presence of Android phones have coincided with equally specific adverts, where the subject of those conversations have never entered into a computer, e.g. by including that subject in search terms on Google."

      Do you leave Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, location and Data on all of the time? I certainly don't and it's very simple to turn them on and off. Bluetooth is used the most to interface with my headset, but if I were going shopping, I'd have it off so it's not pinging beacons. Wi-fi I use infrequently so it's off most of the time and Data I toggle on when I need it and shut it off when I'm done. Location is highly restricted and almost never used. Voice channels will be the last thing that would be used as it would be very telling and impact wireless services. A bit of compressed data being squirted out here and there is highly unlikely to be noticed by the user especially when they connect to their home network via Wi-Fi.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I always wonder how many of these cases are examples of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon.

    Of course, ad companies are gonna sling ads. Just hard to get real data, especially when relying on anecdotal evidence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      > I always wonder how many of these cases are examples of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon.

      Perhaps B-M was the subject of the audio books she was listening to? Now that would be very meta. :-)

  30. Old Man Ted

    What about us Deaf old Buggers?

    Audio books are of exceedingly little use to us old buggers (80+) who have wrecked their hearing after untold hours spent in a loud working space with heavy machinery in the back ground and or a collection of birds ( The Feather kind) all around. Quarrying and mining equipment will quickly cure ones desire for an audio book. For the life of me I fail to hear re reason for an audio book. If one has the desire to just hear a story or a missive it would be a sign of laziness or lack of interest in the written word. With the vast number and dialects in the English speaking world finding just the right accent to listen to.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: What about us Deaf old Buggers?

      " If one has the desire to just hear a story or a missive it would be a sign of laziness or lack of interest in the written word."

      If your eyes are going from so many years staring at the printed page, an audio book still delivers the stories. I started into audiobooks so I could do mindless tasks that are mainly muscle memory AND "read" a book at the same time. When I don't need my ears for anything else, I have a book, lecture or audio news in my head phones. It's not laziness, it's being able to enjoy more books, more frequently.

      BTW, I still read as not everything written is available in audio.

  31. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
    Flame

    Library Directors Abrogated their Duties and Responsibilities

    ... when they signed up with those service and content providers, and didn't bother to read and understand the relevant contracts (or accepted T&Cs which are alterable by the provider, at the provider's whim)... or simply didn't care about the privacy implications in their rush to follow the latest fads. "We're getting rid of our physical media. Just use this nifty smartphone app to download and consume content!"

  32. So...What's.New.Or.Different.This.Time

    eschew library website

    after reading the privacy policy of library, its partners, and their partners (ad nauseam, really), I figured my SJPL is no better than google, youtube or amazon.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: eschew library website

      Assuming that's "San Jose Public Library", you have access to a much better library at San Jose State.

  33. navarac Silver badge

    After Microsoft's "Recall" goes wild in the future on ordinary PCs, you'll be lucky if you don't see screenshots of your bank password etc on your mobile phone! Just saying.

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