Is Facebook Spying on Our iPhone Photos?

Something really creepy happened to me on Facebook today. I saw an ad. While the Cinderella carriage itself is a little strange, that’s not what creeped me out…

Walmart ad on Facebook

How did that ad end up on my screen? I don’t have a daughter, I’m not a big Cinderella fan, and I’ve never indicated anywhere (publicly) that I would be in the market for a $400 battery-operated princess vehicle.

Back in September, I flew out to North Dakota for a long weekend of camping. Before leaving Bismarck, I stopped at a Walmart to gather camping supplies that I wasn’t able to fit into my luggage. While there, I saw a product so ridiculous that I snapped a photo of it on my iPhone to send to my wife.

the text message

That text message was the only place I shared the photo. I never Tweeted it, Facebooked it, Instagrammed it, or any other social-media-platformed it. I just sent one text and then, after I was back from the camping trip and looking through highlights, I deleted the photo and never thought about it again. Until today.

When the ad popped up on Facebook this afternoon, I chuckled at first (again, the carriage is kind of funny), then started connecting the dots. I walked across the hall and chatted with a coworker, he asked if I had the Facebook app on my phone. Yeah, but they wouldn’t, would they…?

I don’t have a smoking gun here, but it sure looks like Facebook was analyzing the photos on my phone and using them to come up with advertising recommendations. How else would that carriage have shown up on my page? (I’d given the app access to my photos library, because I occasionally posted photos from it to my feed.) There’s no other way that they could have seen the photo. And, sure, it could have just been dumb luck that I saw the same goofy carriage twice, but that seems like a really big coincidence.

I tried Googling a variety of related topics, but didn’t turn up much. And, I tried getting an answer from Facebook, but there was nowhere to ask a question other than their public “help community,” which doesn’t seem all that helpful. If I had more time, I could probably pursue this further. But, like you, I’m busy and so I’ll take the easy way out: a bulk update of my phone’s privacy settings.

privacy settings

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This post was published on December 20th, 2016 by Robert James Reese in Facebook. Before using any of the code or other content in this post, you must read and agree to our terms of use.