Paramotoring for the Paranoid: Google’s AI and Relationship Mining

My son approached me the other day with his best 17-year-old sales pitch: “Dad, I need a bucket of cash!” Given that I was elbow deep in suds doing the dishes he neglected to do the night before, I mentioned that it was a singularly bad time for him to ask for anything.

Never one to be dissuaded, he plunged ahead with the reason for the funding request. He had stumbled upon a series of YouTube videos about paramotoring, and it was love at first sight for him. He waxed eloquent about how cool it would be to strap a big fan to his back and soar with the birds on a nylon parasail wing. It was actually a pretty good pitch, complete with an exposition on the father-son bonding opportunities paramotoring presented. He kind of reminded me of the twelve-year-old version of myself trying to convince my dad to spend $600 on something called a “TRS-80” that I’d surely perish if I didn’t get.

Needless to say, the $2500 he needed for the opportunity to break his neck was not forthcoming. But what happened the next day kind of blew my mind. As I was reviewing my YouTube feed, there among the [Abom79] and [AvE] videos I normally find in my “Recommended” queue was a video about – paramotoring. Now how did that get there?

There could be an easy explanation for this, of course. It’s no news that Google reads our email and sends ads based on keywords using AI techniques. [Mike Szczys] recently wrote a piece about Google’s somewhat “weak AI” that does a good job of reminding him when to pay a bill by reading the billing statement emails, but fails to realize he has actually cut the check because it hasn’t figured out how to close that loop. Google’s semi-creepy email reading would be the obvious explanation here, if only my son had sent me a link (as an aside, I think a parent saying “Send me a link” has become this generation’s version of “We’ll see.”) But he didn’t, so email clearly wasn’t the vector that Google used to target me.

A text perhaps? Nope, we didn’t exchange any texts on this topic. In fact, until I started writing this article, I had never in my life typed the word “paramotoring” into any kind of device. So it’s pretty clear that Google wasn’t looking over my shoulder while typing. The only thing we ever did was talk about the topic, so that leads to the possibility that Google is listening to our conversations.

I had my phone in my pocket during his initial pitch – did Google hear us talking about paramotoring and decide I needed to see a video on the subject? Some people seem to think it’s possible, and if so, it’s a little creepy. I know that Google’s assistant is always listening for me to call out “OK Google” and respond to the request. I’ve gone through my audio settings and found plenty of queries, like when I asked for the Superbowl score, or just last night when I asked Google how much protein is in four ounces of chicken breast during dinner. But there’s no record of the word “paramotoring” being uttered. Clearly my phone heard us talking, otherwise it wouldn’t have been able to respond to my other requests. But if it did listen in on our conversation without divulging it, that would be troublesome.

Like Father, Like Son

Luckily, there’s a simpler way to explain this incident, although in my opinion it’s not much less creepy. It could be possible that Google made an association between my son and me based on our contact lists, decided I would be interested in the same videos as he is, and threw a paramotoring video into my feed. That wouldn’t be too hard to program, and it’s actually pretty slick, although I’m not sure either of us wants to know all the details of the other’s video preferences. Sometimes a little mystery is healthy for a parent-child relationship.

Could Google be digging even a little deeper, though? Could Google’s AI have determined from my son’s single-minded pursuit of paramotoring videos that he was ready to buy but lacked the means, and mined his contact list for the most likely person to have access to sufficient funds? If so, that’s pretty sophisticated stuff. It would need to discern personal relationships, figure out the financial situation of the parties, and target the pitch in an infinitely more subtle way than my son’s “bucket of cash” approach.

Have I inadvertently provided Google with the information needed to make that leap? Probably. It would be pretty trivial to figure out from my contact list who my wife is, and who my kids are. We all have the same last name and the same physical address, and from the context of emails it’d be easy to figure out the family hierarchy. Google clearly has access to my financials, too, at least indirectly.

Like [Mike] mentions in his article, Google reads our billing statements for things like car and auto insurance, and could easily infer from the amounts due what your car payments would be, and how much of a mortgage you’re carrying. From there it’s an easy extrapolation using typical debt-to-income ratios to figure out how much I make. My ZIP code provides valuable demographic information that would make it easy for Google to do a reality check on its estimate of our household income.

Google even knows my spending habits – surely it could not have missed the Amazon receipt for the new laptop I bought last week. Put that together with hundreds of Amazon purchases through a typical year, and Google must have a pretty accurate picture of me. Can all this put together be enough to build a map of my family so that Google can put the virtual touch on me for a $2500 paramotor? Sure seems like it.

To be honest, I don’t know which is worse – mining my emails and social media to tag me as the financial head of the household, or outright eavesdropping on me. The eavesdropping just seems like a brute-force approach, though, and I really don’t think that was the vector in this incident. If it was, though, there would be a simple fix – I could just shut up about the things I don’t want the Hive Mind to know about. Putting together an accurate and perhaps unflattering picture of someone from the bits of digital flotsam of our online lives is far more subtle, though, and far more difficult to avoid just by clamming up. That makes it potentially far more powerful, and I think far creepier.

115 thoughts on “Paramotoring for the Paranoid: Google’s AI and Relationship Mining

      1. I agree with this comment. This was my exact response to myself as I read this. YouTube uses location to suggest videos that others in your city have enjoyed. They also suggest based on your search and view history if enabled. I don’t believe they are targeting YouTube videos by listening to conversations or by digging into your family relationship status with one another. You could easily test this by having your son search for something out of the ordinary and random and see if it shows up in your feed.

        1. Or by the possibility that the son simply watched the video on a computer father’s YT account was logged into. At least that’s why I think I used to be bombarded with Minecraft vids and now get suggestions on rad skaterz.
          “Send me a link” rings true though – means “Not today (and hopefully you will lose interest by tomorrow)”

        2. It’s differently linked to geolocation ip monitoring.

          Logging into your gmail must trigger a path of ips for advertising from work, home, phone, etc.

          Search request from the same ip must also be linked back to your gmail account helping the cycle provide more ads.

          It all comes back to ips and gmail accounts.

          At work I see other peoples ebay searches, and youtube videos. This means Google is not the only one doing this.

  1. I realise that it’s the money google makes from the targeted advertising that pays for the services Google provide. I would much rather pay an annual use fee and not have Google making all these assumptions about me, and selling my data off to other unknown companies to do with as they wish.

    1. And that is the answer, you will find that you have 1000 times as much in common with other HAD readers than you have with the rest of humanity in terms of what you watch and search for so we all float along in the same statistical cluster and Google notices this and only this.

    2. What (or who) are ABOM and AvE? Are they characters out of a dyslexic Bible? Google suggested a maker of ski goggles and a Spanish high speed train company; if that is what they are you shouldn’t be surprised at what adverts you get sent.

        1. Abom79 is the YouTube channel of Adam Booth, a machinist from Pensacola Florida. Calling him a machinist is a little weak – he’s kind of a machine tool guru with a huge amount of knowledge and skill that belies his relative youth.

          AvE is another YouTube channel. We’ve featured a lot of AvE (“Arduino versus Evil”) project before. He’s an irreverent Canuck with a bewildering array of skills – machining, hydraulics, manufacturing engineering, electronics. There’s nothing he won’t try to build, often with hilarious results. Much NSFW language, which seems to upset those whose knickers came pre-bunched from the store, but for the rest of us, AvE is good for a laugh and a learn.

  2. This is a good observation – I’ve observed similar leakage across several Google accounts that I use but haven’t pursued the specifics. Wouldn’t it be a fairly simple experiment to create a “dummy” account and see if it’s linking anyone from that IP address or perhaps something else?

    FWIW the standard joke has been to speculate about creating a bot that enters all the search terms that the NSA is looking for and see how long it takes for the blacked-out suburbans to roll up in front of your house, but I’m in no hurry to try it.

    1. The last paragraph of yours:
      Use an abandon house/safe-house/public WiFi spot or something not tied to you. Get a burner laptop or two and have it (one of them) do the bidding and the optional extra send a feed (via another link preferably) to watch what happens….(to another random location you’ll ponse off of for lesser tracability of course).

      Get random people’s prints (thus DNA) over the laptop(s), Clean off prints, etc from said laptop(s) so that the laptop cannot be traced and if your DNA is found dominant in the laptop, You was gonna give it to your mate and it got stolen. You didn’t care because it had no real value to you so you dropped the idea of calling the cops.

      They will pass off the other DNA as either your friends and/or theif but won’t know where to start looking!

  3. I’m fairly sure the phone is listening. I talk about obscure topics that I’ve never searched for with friends then I’m scrolling through Facebook and I have several ads show right away for it.

    I had a phone call about dentists with family and was bombarded by dental ads.

    I had a straight Shakira and world music mix while driving for a few hours and found that I had several multi lingual advertisements.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I think it’s both.

  4. Is it not more likely for him to have just used your account without you knowing? Linking to previous videos (YouTube History) Or browsed webpages and then they are targeting suggested videos on cookies. Hence this suggestion of the video?

  5. Your son isn’t wrong. I had the same reaction to paramotoring videos when I was his age, and then years later, I can confirm that it’s the single best thing any person can ever do. If anything, video make it look less exciting that it actually is.

    1. Unpowered paragliding is the other single best thing tho. Forget the motor noise and related restrictions as well as the motor weight/size restricting your mobility if you can’t reach the place in car. Hop with the paraglider on a bike or a plane, check it in as normal luggage.

      I’m with all the people saying the video suggestion was simply because of the shared public IP.

    1. I’m with Queeg on this. I’ve been experimenting with Google leakage for awhile. I have been using a logged in Chrome browser and a Firefox browser without a log in. The recommended videos slowly merged over a few months.

    2. This is also what I was thinking. Single WiFi router, same IP address for all devices (from Google’s perspective), single point of data collection.

      I could also have been coincidence as others have pointed out. It’s likely that Dan and his son are in some of the same demographics (adventure sports, outdoor activities, etc.) and got the same video that way. But I don’t like to casually dismiss too many things as coincidence.

    3. I came here to suggest this as a much, much more likely option than Google lying about recording before the wake word was detected or trying to make connections about your finances and family structure.

    4. Actually just confirmed to my own satisfaction it’s IP based, thought I’d just see what youtube front page gave me now (Ice hockey WTF??? No fans here.) and it had a load of portal videos that was what a kid was looking at on our Wii last time he was here.

      Oh geeze, just cottoned, relative looking up ice dance shows = biggest hockey fan evarrrr 110% confirmed according to the artificial stupidity.

    5. I agree– over two years and rarely signing into Google or Youtube, the videos I watch on my computer, Vita and 3DS have about the same recommendations- I should try deleting temp internet files again and see if anything changes. This would be interesting to experiment with when I move to a new house and ISP too

      1. First thing I put on every morning is a fresh coat of cranial aluminum. Not to keep the mind-control rays out, mind you. Gotta keep the world safe from anything leaking out of this skull. Think of the children.

    6. I don’t buy this. I think Google is way too smart to blast ads and related content to every computer on a shared internet connection. They’re paid to target advertising to the right set of eyeballs. Shotgunning ads to every computer connecting to the same router is like putting up a billboard near an interchange and hoping the right demographics drives by. That’s a 1950s model for advertising, and I doubt very much that Google would embrace it given everything they obviously already know about their products – us.

      1. I agree that Google is too smart to just shotgun ads to everyone on the same IP, or lump your surfing history together. They certainly want to target ads to specific users. But being on the same IP links the two of you, and if they are smart enough to realize that something like paramotoring could be a family activity they might advertise it to others on the same IP.

  6. Another guess. It may have noted that your son viewed videos from your home Internet connection and sent ads based on that to any other user identity they have correlated with being used tied to the home router’s IP address. A while ago, somebody here at work ordered lingerie from a work computer – everyone in the office ended up with rather embarrassing Google ads for a month.

      1. Some of that is very disturbing, on my mother in laws computer, she was getting ads for some very scummy stuff, fake virus warnings/checkers, financial scams, and the “why am I seeing this ad” reported it was because she was over 60…. that’s deliberate preying on the technologically challenged.

        1. Not sure if Google is actively being predatory here or just not being careful enough to vet the ads. The scammers themselves probably had a chance to specify something like “Over 60” in who they wanted Google to market to.

          1. Right, paying better than depends to get to the over 60s or something, but very poor vetting too, and I guess a lot of them can’t figure how to report it, or just go “I don’t want to see this.”

          2. Maybe it has changed in the past few years, but I used to hate putting something quite specific into the Google bar, such as, “Panasonic CT-470A Cassette Player schematic”, and a page or so later in the results see, “Panasonic CT-470A Cassette Player schematics”, only to find it was a link to some 3rd world Pr0n site.

          3. That was an actual improvement they did a few years back, de-emphasising non-content keywords, there’d be whole dictionaries hiding in the html. The spam was getting atrocious and 2 bit outfits could freeload their way up the results, having neither relevant content or having enriched google, so it was kinda win win for users and google.

            There followed about a 6-12 month golden age where if it was on the web, you could find it with an appropriately tailored search query using advanced operators.

            Then about 2 years ago, they nixed half the operators, and really started to dumb everything down. Last 6 months they’ve been really piling on the “We know better than you what you want.” shit and it’s like trying to steer a train.

    1. Although what particularly pisses me off about this kind of thing now, is illustrated there, actually BUY something and it relentlessly hounds you to buy THE SAME DAMN THING for a month after. Meanwhile, when you were actually searching to buy prior to that, it was curveballing off your searches picking most profitable pair of terms out of 4 specific ones that completely trashed context and was giving you absolute freaking junk results.

      1. Yah, classic example of the useless futility of prediction happening now, Tuesday, I was searching for vehicle LED interior lights, courtesy light bulb replacements, anyway, it seized on the LED term and was trying to stick me in the rut of household LED bulbs, fought my way out of that rut into vehicle bulbs, and then it was all external bulbs, headlights, under car, license plate, every. freaking. thing. other than interior bulbs, kept ignoring the terms interior, courtesy, everything I could think of to refine the search but it wasn’t having it. Isn’t that pressing a matter, so gave up. So what am I getting today now I notice? Yah, household LED bulb ads. More and more, I have to think of or remember a site that sells or talks about what I want and go directly to that site and search on it, because google isn’t going to take me anywhere remotely similar any more. And don’t get me started on when it uses synonyms or changes the tense or a word that destroys context, even when you put the damn thing in quotes it ignores it 9 times out of 10, and that verbatim option supposed to be on the tools, over half the time it’s not there.

        1. Heh, if only they’d pay the sales departments to fully parse (i.e. linguistically, manually) product descriptions and the ad algorithm coders to (linguistically, as good as it can get) parse search queries. In your example it seems clear that the machine failed to grasp that a car can have an interior as well, and kept alternating between house interior, or external car lights… because it foists off keywords (or their coincident counts) as “parsing”

          1. Some of them can’t even get it right internally. Big box hardware store, wanted to look up details of a product with Duck in the actual name and it kept giving me 1000+ results for duct wildcard wildcard… typing in actual name of product, short name of product and purpose, ducts ducts ducts… hokay… dug and dug in the department tree, eventually found the damn thing… 3 varieties of… and experimented with various words from the copy and “duck” nope, ducts all the way down.

  7. Yep, Google is creepy and probably pretty evil. And almost impossible to avoid entirely, if you want to use the World Wide Web today. What an enormous shame. The best we can do is use self-hosted email, use different search engines, and generally stay away from their services. They’ll still build huge profiles on us, though, and I don’t like it one bit.

        1. that really should have sent klaxons singing everywhere, i can barely conceive of the meeting that would lead to someone dropping that instead of dealing with the “being evil” part that must have led to the situation.

  8. i had a somewhat similar experience last week, where i was talking about squeaking brakes to a friend in the car, to later that evening get ads and youtube suggestions about squeaking brakes. the only time it came up was during the conversation in the car, at no time did i ever enter that term into google or whatever. this shit is getting scary!

    1. Google probably knows that you two were together and if your friend did searches on the subject it might leak over to you, especially if his searches were right before and/or after the time you spent together. Just a thought.

  9. Google shifted focus from search ad revenue products to predictive analytical sales-channel generation.

    They know more about your life than most could imagine, but the you-tube phenomena occurs when the last IP address logs into a specific gmail account. Thus, the user profile is updated, and associated with a given market demographic. Since the users identified themselves at some point in the past with a phone number to register their free email, this label translates into a verified sales channel which is quite valuable.

    Every service they offer tracks the users signature profile, and retroactively builds a detailed behavioural pattern. For example, the JavaScript CDN and DNS services many external sites use are also included in many “secured” environments. The web designers get suckered into cloud analytics, and the data trail continues under the guise that somehow your slice of the information gives a peak at the bigger picture.

    The Google network edge appliances given to ISP and businesses are famous for all sorts of hilarity.
    Recall that Google and Facebook fall under US data access compliance laws.

    Don’t worry about Google Voice Search streaming meta data, as they’ve been able to read your minds from space since 2014.
    Does HaD think Adobe Typekit or word-press are any better?
    ;-)

  10. I now start and kill the browser every session and clear all the history. That has pretty much stopped the obviously google connected ad selection. But Eric Schmidt’s comments on data analytics are rather scary. Unfortunately, he’s generally right. The big threat though is the commercial companies collecting and reselling the data. There are rules about what the US government can do, but far weaker protection in the commercial sector.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/google-eric-schmidt-countries-will-fight-over-big-data-alphabet-cloud-2017-3

    Of course, it’s all just a sales pitch for google to gain access to more data while charging the customer for the privilege of giving google their data.

  11. There is one more explanation, much easier than the others and much more likely. Selection bias. You are the filter. You probably had videos about paramotoring in your feed before, appearing there randomly, but you never paid any attention to them. And suddenly, you noticed this one, because you were primed by the previous conversation. That’s it.

      1. well, since you and Dan Maloney are both related to HaD, perhaps we’ve all been recently considered as targets for the same para-motoring video. but we don’t know with whom it started…

        there’s many possible explanations… in my order of credibility (most credible first):
        1) the family connection (emails, and the last few years of Internet usage in general…)
        2) the router connection: the devices of father and son shared IP address
        3) the ultrasonic beacon connection linked father and son
        4) the HaD connection links father and son (I assume the son checks HaD as well), as well as others here reporting para-motoring videos recently (I didn’t encounter any though)
        5) the verbal connection, there could really have been real text-2-speech going on…

        They are all pretty credible IMHO, even to the extent that I think multiple of these and more factors were used when the machine weighed different candidate videos for the father’s video feed…

        1. “4) the HaD connection links father and son (I assume the son checks HaD as well)”

          Nope. Sadly, only my mom reads my posts. My wife will from time to time and will only comment on whatever spelling or grammar errors she finds. I couldn’t get my kids to read my posts if I paid them.

  12. I have gotten ads for car dealers in Temecula CA on YouTube moments after speaking about Temecula. My phone was on and in the YouTube app while I was speaking. I have also been served ads for Artists that I saw at a variety show the day after the show. My assumption is that Google not only knew where I was but when I was there and what was going on while I was there.

      1. [jacobchrist],
        ignore the previous reply, it is obviously a Google attempt, by creating a false online personna, to befriend you to obtain even more information about you!
        B^)

  13. There used to be a way to get Google’s ads and recommendations engine to divulge everything it had inferred about you from your searches, email, and any browsing you may have done on sites that use the Google ad service. When I asked it I was somewhat mortified to discover it had me pegged as about fifteen years older than I actually am, and it was very close on my profession (it picked electrical / computer engineer while I’m actually a computer programmer (but having spent much of my professional life working on embedded systems, device drivers, and other close-to-the-hardware programming and building microcontroller and FPGA based projects as a hobby and to keepi my skills up to date that’s a fuzzy line and an understandable error for an AI or even a human to make were they to be presented with my every Google search, email, and a list of 80% of the URLs I’ve visited in the last ten years).
    It even offered me the opportunity to help it by supplying corrections and additional information or deleting inaccurate elements from the dossier (although I can’t help but suspect that it really just keeps the data point and additionally records that you objected to it so they can use it for training and with further analysis differentiate between incorrect vs. correct but unflattering inferences).
    I have not been able to find that feature again and I suspect that instead of improving their public image it ended up creeping people out more than anything. Now here’s a thought: I wonder how hard it would be to set up a front-end mail server and client that would accept mail for you, encrypt it, and sent it to your gmail and then the client would read your Gmail and decrypt it for you. If all other-party addresses were encrypted as were the subject lines and message bodies it would hopefully thwart the snooping. Although at that point you might as well just use a less nosy email provider to start with…

    1. Problem is that so many people you have contact with will insist on using gmail, and will of course not for a second consider something as ‘outlandish’ as encryption. So you you can only protect one side of the e-mail equation. Although you could add a tagline to your e-mails saying ‘sent from Dan Maloney’ to confuse the system.

  14. Even Creepier Story: Since high school i have not lived with my parents, but my family and I usually go to Hawaii together for Christmas break. This year i stayed on the mainland with my wife’s family- but one morning during break my phone (Google) asked me to review a restaurant my family had just visited in Hawaii. To make things more interesting, my GPS had been off for over a month – i only use it to navigate new places, and since I’ve had a smart phone, i’ve opted out of all “voluntarily sent information” to Google.

      1. Yes, but because location services were off, Google saw that my family visited a restaurant in Hawaii, and asked me to review while I was in California. Basically it drew the association that I usually travel with my family, from past experiences, then used their location to push me a review notification…

  15. You shared an Internet connection with your son and his searching then influences yours, based on ip address, as can be seen with a new pc running a web browser in private/incognito mode after a phone searches for “5v arduino relay” or “plumbing fittings”

  16. Don’t forget that some of these devices can transmit data via sound to other devices, or so I have read.
    I don’t use the G app. Shut that off. Disabled most of the ‘features’.

  17. What’s creepy is you being happy to give Google access to all that information.
    I’m surprised you didn’t specifically request them to analyze all your spoken words.

    Also it might in these cases help if you check the various EULA you agreed to, specifically the ones regarding voice assistance and E-mail.

  18. I’m fairly confident Google is listening to my every day conversations. Sunday night a friend offered me these weird fruit snacks, these flat disks that are stuck to a sheet of waxed paper. I had zero idea what they were, never heard of them.
    The next morning Amazon was recommending them to me. I made no searches, no texts, no emails. My friend bought them from shop rite on a whim, no searching, no amazon deals.

  19. Yeah, I’m starting to see a greater than coincidence association of words seemingly picked out of random turns of conversation, that I’m fairly sure nobody had up to then searched for from my IP, it is getting VERY creepy.

    Oddly I can’t necessarily pin it on android devices because thinking about it, there’s been IOS devices present at the times it has happened.

    Google search itself has been becoming pretty much unusable for me the last few months, it’s got very heavy handed steering from previous queries from my IP, and with several people in the house there’s a lot of crossover. I had been using it for fairly random shit, searching things to add context to something I was reading, maybe having a forum convo where something came up so I’d google it, not REALLY personally interested in it, but it got weighted really heavy in their Artificial Stupidity matrix and now it’s screwing up the stuff I really want good results for.

    I get really worried the odd time it throws up those dating sites specific to one religion from time to time, not sure if that’s really what it thinks about me, or it’s a kind of honeypot trap. Combine that sort of thing with the apparent deliberate programming of some pages to jump an ad under your click that was aiming for something else and it’s really worrying what false kind of assumptions are going on back there.

    As a Canadian I’ve clicked on a few forty fourth pres titled articles, in “watching with popcorn” mode, and I get the fanclub sites shoved at me.

    Notice I am being vague/general with words here trying not to trigger more of the freaking stuff.

  20. Google tags your IP address and spams any device with that IP address with similar suggestions. If you’re on your friends wifi and visit a site with those ad sense ads all over the place you can see what stuff they are searching for. :)

  21. Rather than paramotoring, take a look at gliding. It is cheap, arguably safer, and great fun. What’s not to like about accelerating 0-50mph in 4s, climbing with your feet higher than your head, pulling 3G (so your cheeks sag) for minutes at a time, or 0G so the mud floats in front of your face – and then flying alongside raptors, gazing into each others’ eyes, or along a hillside whizzing past sheep, or above the clouds. (Balleka’s youtube videos are a good intro as to what’s possible)

    I learned to glide at the same time as my daughter, and it benefited her and us in ways I never expected. When writing her first CVs she could demonstrate teamworking, coolness under pressure, interacting with the public, responsible behaviour. It also meant that she wanted to continue doing something with me for far longer than would otherwise have happened.

  22. I’m sure it spies pictures too. I once took a photo of a friend and saved it *locally* (no cloud involved), and after some time I started to get ads from the brand of that guy’s t-shirt. It’s a fairly common brand (11-letter name starting with A), but I never searched it. Also I wasn’t using WiFi and I never searched that brand from my home network anyway. And I’ve never been to any of its shops.

    Maybe that fancy face recognition/tagging engine is also used for something else?

  23. If I hadn’t had similar things happen to me I would’ve written it off as a coincidence (bias error). It’s easy for the human mind to find connections where there are none (horoscope anyone?) but in the case of Google that isn’t the case. It’s eery but I don’t really mind it. They already know everything about me, so jumping in to ‘help’ is useful sometimes.
    As a note, all my android devices have google now voice recognition turned off at all times.

    The more sinister theory is that you are being subjected to a random targeted focus group, where the word ‘paramotoring’ is fed to check the consumer response. It starts with one user and continues slowly to the others throughout the house. Just having the suggestion appear at the same time is not as effective as adding artificial delays.

    Btw, game developers do this all the time, check out the YouTube talk on ‘why I quit making free-to-play games’ or similar, from GDC.

  24. I probably confuse the hell out of Google. At home, I have a dual-stack Internet connection, and so when I do a Google search (and that’s pretty much the only service of theirs I make significant use of these days), they see my IPv6 address.

    I do use YouTube, but these days I’ve found it stopped working in the browser (it’ll try and load, then give up with an error), and so I just use youtube-dl to download a copy, play it with mplayer, then delete the copy. Most of those clips come from this site. (Oddly enough, a few years ago when I was at uni, I had to do the same thing … largely because YouTube used Flash at the time, and my second-hand PII 300MHz laptop just wasn’t up to playing video in Flash, but could play those videos fine in mplayer.)

    At work, their ISP (Platinum Networks) lives in 1984, and so it’s IPv4 only. I have found having the IPv6 stack as well handy as it does allow me to check that the virtual private servers are working properly on both protocols. I achieve this by using OpenVPN in layer 2 bridge mode to hook my work laptop up to my home VLAN and let it use SLAAC to configure itself.

    So once again, at work, Google sees my IPv6 address which will be randomised but within the same subnet as my home network. It looks like I’m always at home. The nature of the queries doesn’t change much too… usually of a technical nature.

    At work last week I was looking up reference on the Chai JS assertion library, socket.io, nginx configuration etc… last weekend I spent much of my time looking up various Linux kernel symbols as I ported a serial driver for the Advantech UNO-1150G industrial computer — the same sort my workplace used to use, and still manages a few of. But then it crosses over… I do kernel development at work too, and use many of the programming environments I use at work, at home too.

    So they can tell it’s me … but can’t tell where I am based on what I’m searching or what address I come from. I probably look like I work from home or am unemployed, which might explain the occasional head-hunting attempts by their HR department.

  25. I’m 100% sure my android phone listens to me and sends key words and phrases to advertisers. Example: I am not a baseball fan and never look up sports scores or tickets, and Pandora Radio almost always gives me targeted ads for textbooks and clothing. But recently I went to a dinner party where someone told a long story about their childhood baseball team, and when I got home and opened Pandora.com I was greeted by ads for baseball tickets. I have never been shown baseball-related ads on Pandora before or since.

  26. Maybe it’s just me, but i’ve been using DuckDuckGo recently for searchs – it seems to be pretty good and it seems to limit what Google is seeing about me. Was able to easily install a VPN on my Linux box which i can switch on when i need it. Nice. Yea Linux. – :)

    1. I have a hacked WiFi router that blocks ads, but I can see them on my phone when I’m not connected to the home network. I can’t install *block on it because it’s old and it has 512MB RAM only.
      (Yes, I could use one of these pocket cellular modems, but I don’t have any. Also they don’t support phone calls and texts.)

    2. Just to be clear, I didn’t see an ad for paramotoring. I just found a video about paramotoring in my “Recommended for You” feed. I suppose that’s an ad of sorts, though, since Google made money off the ads at the start of the video.

  27. I wish supplyframe had the amount of sense to question the intrusiveness of Google. You can’t even apply for a residency at the Design Lab without submitting all your info DIRECTLY to google. Cause, you know, before Google Forms came about there was no way to submit form data via HTML.
    Snark aside on how stupid it is for a tech mag to rely on such a feeble crutch to collect data, as if they know nothing about how the web works… there is a bigger issue. You (supplyframe) are selling out everyone who has the ambition to help you. You are selling them out by disclosing the details of their plans to google, which google then uses to make strategic investments, crushing competition, lobbying for regulations, and more.

    Anyone ever seen the talks from companies when they first unveiled AI at the turn of the millenium? It was always about “which stock to buy”, and similar things. You think they were analyzing stock trading trends to calculate that? No, they were reading internal company emails, documents, chats, etc. which people are now happily sending all to google thanks to gmail, forms, hangouts and others. Wikimedia uses hangouts to do all their planning sessions. Most non-profits use docs and forms and hangouts. Disclosing all of their plans and communications. YOU DON’T THINK THEY ARE CORRELATING THAT AND USING IT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD? Yeah, the company is worth $83 for every single human being on the planet because they are actually producing stuff. uh huh.

    1. I think it comes down to risk management. Google sells ads and provides services through internet applications. Their business doesn’t really overlap with mine. So I have little to fear from them knowing my business.
      One could argue that having Google know my business is bad because they could sell that information with my competitors and hurt me. But if they did that, nobody would trust them, and their business would disappear. So the chances of that seem slim to none. They have more to lose than to gain.
      Trying to show me ads based on my browsing history is really a small sacrifice to pay, considering that all of those ads are blocked anyway…

  28. So I can get a cool residency spot with an RGB LED contraption? Coming right up. Arduino something something, Raspberry PI something, plus IoT LED WOO!

    You’re an idiot Benchoff. STFU.

    1. If you want the RGB contraptions at your home, you can buy them from Philips. They has some nice DRMs included too.
      If you don’t have enough money to buy them, stop buying eaten-apple-branded smartphones, elk-branded clothes, Arduinos and Pi Zeros (but keep ’em since you’ll need an electronic apple to control the RGB LEDs and you’ll need an elk t-shirt to go to the shop to buy them. And you’ll need Arduinos and Pi Zeros to get the same feeling of the Design Lab).

    1. I had a couple of interesting ideas across these lines.
      1) A browser plugin to visit random websites when you aren’t at your computer to obfuscate your browsing history.
      2) A browser plugin to hide ads, but invisibly click on them and browse around on the websites randomly to completely destroy the value of clicks in online advertising.

    2. We also have a shared account for everyone. Youtube video suggestions are almost random, ranging from Ed Sheeran to toy reviews, and ads are even more random, from the aforementioned 11-letter clothing brand to all sorts of toy stores. Aliexpress ads also have their place.

  29. How about the fact that you both connect to the internet from the same place and thus receive the same google provided ad’s? So google knows someone in your household is interested in these videos so it shows them to all of you?

    I guess is is more a case of failed IA, failing to distinguish between household members, than a succeeded IA.

  30. The other option is that it has nothing to do with your family/son and it’s simply google noticing that the type of people who watch ave and abom79 are likely to be people who also are interested in paramotoring. I have been watching those three channels for months (my own searches) … plus I could trivially guess at least another couple of channels you frequent also. Remember, correlations in behaviour in big datasets is likely to be “spooky accurate” for a significant fraction of people at any time — no wonder people jump to “how did they know, must have been the microphone spying” — even if google could, I doubt it would, it’s a relatively expensive computational process to process voice, and it’s not necessary anyway. If you wanted to test it out, get a few hundred of your buddies who regularly watch the same youtube channels — pick some weird channel you’d never normally watch, all subscribe and watch the full videos… I’d bet that behaviour resulted in the control people getting recommendations on that weird channel. Similar in a way to amazons “other people who bought this also bought” ad bar works.

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