Siri Reporting into Google Ads?

Stay with me here – stable guy, cyber security expert – consciously aware of my digital footprint. For the 3rd memorable and most significant event in my life – I have had a run-in with “impossible to guess” advertising. I can simply not believe that I’m not being eavesdropped on by my iPhone.

November 8, A Trip to the Dentist

On November 8th, after my dentist appointment,  I mentioned with voice to my wife that my current dentist moved from the old fashioned Xray film plates (in-the-mouth pictures), to the new high resolution digital sensors that show you results on the computer screen instantly.

I remarked to the hygienist about how great this digital sensor was while on the chair while waiting for final inspection by the dentist.  That evening I was verbally telling my wife about my experience with that ‘new technology’.

And here we are. What in the world makes google think i’m an excellent target for dental sensors?

My appointment was only noted in my private outlook calendar (local machine only) and my Apple shared family calendar – but the text of the invite did not mention who in my family it was for or the address or name of my dentist.

As most pervasive ads do, this particular Google ad is now following me. My initial thoughts after seeing the ad were:

  • Pure coincidence? Nah…
  • Did another person’s google phone overhear my voice while at the Dentist? 
  • Did the technology itself or the computer software that receives the image have any kind of IOT and hidden microphone?   
  • I have no whole-home spy devices like Google Home, Alexa, or a Nest thermostat microhpone.
  • I have nothing Android in my house
  • Too many coincidences lately.

Of course, I let my inner circle know about this event over the next few days, because, hey, it’s neat and scary.

Wait, you had Siri listening?

Yup, but not anymore! That experiment has now ended. Darn, I really loved setting a countdown timer with my voice. To be honest, not entirely Siri is the culprit, but we’ll have a better fix on that in the next few months.

As a cyber security professional, it’s important to have a foot both in the “real” world, the one where normal consumers shrug off digital surveillance and slippery slopes in exchange for shiny things, but also being hyper-aware of the threat-landscape of enemy territory where we tread. Treating the experience as an ongoing experiment, making purposeful decisions and noting what choices are in front of us(like standing in front of a new self-checkout machine at the supermarket), and carefully curating our digital lives makes us more aware of the risks out there. Considering the 10,000ft. view and observing security from an abstracted layer makes us better at our professional, and able to lead those within and outside the technical community to better privacy and understanding of the social contract we have with technology.

Naturally and by RiPPUL Policy, our distrust of all closed technologies leads us to put the phone out of earshot for any conversations of a very private nature.

Patrick Best

It’s not unusual for me to place the phone in the laundry room at the end of the day at home or to toss it outside the office for closed-door sessions. Many clients have remarked about this overt move. Most are happy to have an ally who thinks the same way, some nod knowingly, and some are immediately pivoted into cloning this behaviour by the demonstrated act.

I’m curious as to what a packet capture would reveal about communication in and out of an iPhone, but we’re just too busy at Rippul to do the independant research at the moment.

One more for the road.

This morning, 2 weeks after the incident described above, alone, after parking my car in a grocery store parking lot, I turned off the engine. My eye caught a 4×6 sticker on a light pole for a junk removal company. As a business-minded entrepreneur myself, I marvel at the junk-removal business and am always impressed by new contenders trying their hand at catchy names.

The bright yellow sticker said “Junk Broz”, which I thought was a great name – hilarious. In the absence of other people, and because of my personality, I broke the silence of my closed and quiet car cabin by saying aloud, and in a not too over the top accent or mangling of the words, :
“Junk Brohs”.

Went in, did my shopping, got back home, cracked a browser, and this:

Better than Junk Broz?

So that’s it. Look, I’ve never searched online for dental sensors or junk removal guys. I’m not shocked, but i think this article will bring some comfort to those searching for “others”. No, you’re not crazy. Yes, it’s happened to me.

If you have a compelling story you’d like to share about how that F150 you marveled at on the highway is now popping up in your browsing, then please, share it. Share it with everyone you know and I’m sure you’ll have the same response from others as I have had with people I’ve shared it with. “That happened once to me too…”