By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – An extra layer of privacy is now in the hands of iPhone users. The new update should help alleviate the feeling that something is eavesdropping on your conversations.

That had us wondering, how much does the internet know about us? And how can we keep our lives private?

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Good Question. Jeff Wagner learned it’s ultimately up to the user.

If you own a smartphone, you likely have one of these tales to tell.

“My coworker was getting this new jacket for her boyfriend for Christmas and then my phone all of a sudden started getting targeted ads for that same jacket even though I had never like searched it or anything,” said Erin Ryan-Mosley.

“We joke like the FBI is in our phone,” said Tony Preston after having ads pop up on his phone related to recent conversations.

How much does the internet know about us?

“I would argue that the internet knows pretty much everything about us,” said Mark Lanterman, chief technology officer for Computer Forensic Services. “We now live our lives on the internet and companies often make money by collecting and reselling our computer usage patterns.”

Whenever we download a new app, we’re often presented with a terms and conditions page. It’s filled with consent agreements that are lengthy and rarely read by the user.

“We just click ‘agree’ because it’s a cool app. Well if you read them, we are consenting to allow them to listen, collect, and resell everything we do,” said Lanterman. He also teaches at St. Thomas University and tested this theory in front of his class. Lanterman said he talked about Jeep vehicles and going on an African safari for several minutes with his phone nearby.

“Within a few minutes, I started getting advertising from Jeep and from companies offering African safaris,” he said. “It turned out that Google had that information, that it was Google that was then offering me these custom ads.”

The personal information apps gather could include your physical location, what you search online, and what you might be saying near your phone in order to create targeted advertising, according to Lanterman.

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The eavesdropping part is what bothers Mike Hofer.

“You almost feel violated,” he said. “I’m fine if I type something in or I search for something, you know. I put it in there. That’s fair game. But I didn’t tell you to listen to me.”

Apple’s latest iPhone update addresses this issue through its new “app tracking transparency prompt.” Users can now choose yes or no to sharing personal data on each app.

“Whatever you choose is up to you. But at Apple, we believe that you should have a choice,” can be heard in an informational video about the new feature from Apple.

“What I like about Apple’s move is it caters to individuals who value their privacy while still giving other consumers the flexibility to still participate in customized advertising,” said Lanterman. “I applaud Apple for it.”

Facebook is not applauding. The social media giant feels the new feature will hurt small businesses trying to reach their target audience.

“I personally am the number one like culprit for Instagram ads, ads like that. And I like it. Like, I want my ads to be targeted towards what I like,” said Ryan-Mosley.

Preston feels the update will give people peace of mind, specifically older generations.

“I was personally raised with technology. I’m 24. So just having technology at the fingertips, you don’t really think too much about it,” he said.

Hofer plans to utilize the iPhone update among other security steps. He deleted the Google search engine on his phone and is opting to use Yahoo! instead.

Other tips to make your phone more secure include turning off location on apps, turning off microphone access on apps, and turning off voice recognition software like Siri and OK Google.

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Those options are typically in the settings and privacy section on your phone.

Jeff Wagner