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Instagram CEO says the app doesn’t listen to your conversations

Instagram’s CEO says that the app doesn’t listen to your conversations — even though you may see ads related to products you were talking about with a friend, but never actually searched for.

In an interview with CBS News’ Gail King scheduled to air Wednesday, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said ads that seemingly pop up right after you talk about products in real life are mostly “dumb luck.” King had asked why she sees advertisements for products she never searched for while browsing Instagram.

If you use Instagram, you’ve probably know what King is talking about. You’ll be talking to a friend about how you need a new suitcase for an upcoming trip and then later see an ad for suitcases in your feed.

Mosseri said the question comes up a lot and gave two reasons for the suspicious ads.

“One is dumb luck, which can happen. The second is you might be talking about something because it’s top of mind because you’ve been interacting with that type of content more recently. It’s top of mind, maybe it’s subconscious and then it bubbles up later. I think this kind of thing happens often in a way that’s really subtle,” Mosseri said.

While Instagram may not be listening in on your private conversations to send you targeted advertisements, the social media app does serve up targeted ads based on your interactions and interests within Instagram. These ads are generated based on people you follow and photos or videos you have liked or commented on. Instagram also uses demographic data from its parent company, Facebook, to determine what you’re interested in, sorting users into at least 52,000 ad-targeting categories.

Our social media platforms know more about us than we realize, and because of that, users have an innate distrust of what else it knows, including if it can tap into our private lives outside the app. Other apps — particularly virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Apple’s Siri — do listen to you constantly so you can quickly and conveniently access them with your voice.

It’s not wonder users are suspicious that Instagram could be doing the same thing, and even Mosseri knows that. 

“We don’t look at your messages, we don’t listen in on your microphone, doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons. But I recognize you’re not gonna really believe me,” he said. 

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