IT WAS Christmas Day.
With all the excitement of a kid cracking into their Santa stocking, I handed over a carefully wrapped and even more scrupulously researched gift to my significant other.
Smugly awaiting his reaction and convinced I had found the best present ever, I couldn’t wait for the moment he saw what I had chosen.
When that came, he looked happy and touched at the thought that had gone into the gift, but there was a flash of something else I couldn’t put my finger on.
Not wanting to disappoint me, he didn’t share that right away. But a few days later, sitting on the couch with our devices in our faces, I found out.
Turning his phone screen to me, he showed me the creepy and surprise-ruining ad that popped up in his feed.
“This is so weird,” he said. “This is what you gave me for Christmas, and I’m pretty sure I saw it a few days ago too.”
What, the, hell, Facebook? This is creepy as all else.
It’s weird enough that the garlic crusher I bought months ago keeps popping up in my feed even though I’m sure I only googled it once, but now my searches are invading my partner’s social media bubble?
Sure, we share wi-fi networks. Maybe even IP addresses (disclaimer: I have no idea what that actually means). We’ve occasionally — very occasionally — logged in on each other’s devices. But if you’re going to target ads, at least target them to the right person.
What happened in my house in December wasn’t a disaster by any means. It hardly ruined Christmas — it was just odd and a bit confusing. A similar thing happened a few weeks later when something he had searched for popped up in my feed.
I took no offence at the super hi-tech hard drive that Facebook had decided I might be interested in (and my husband had been comparing prices for), but couldn’t help but think there were situations where this could go horribly wrong.
Imagine a woman in an abusive relationship, searching discreetly and anonymously for help and advice on how to cope or escape the situation, only to find ads for those services appear on her partner’s screen and tip him off.
Or a confused young person exploring their sexuality online who’s not quite ready to discuss it with their parents or flatmates. Is there a worse way to be outed than your family being served suspicious targeted ads?
I put some questions to Facebook asking why this was happening and if the company had any concerns about possible scenarios it may lead to, but they didn’t want to answer them.
Somewhere they won’t be able to avoid questions is in an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation, which the government has called to be conducted into the social media giant.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims says Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms have more information on us than we know about, and a broad inquiry is needed to find out what details and insights they have and what they can do with those.
Speaking with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sims said it was “absolutely crucial” we find out what level of access Facebook and Google has when it comes to our personal details and behavioural insights — and that of those around us — and whether people are worried about it.
“My intuition tells me people will be concerned,” he said. “Most people are fairly private.”
A hint about a Christmas present it not a great a concern — it could even be an amazing coincidence — but it indicates, at least to me, that there could be some major privacy concerns we need to be worried about.