Tech firm tests whether social media companies are eavesdropping on consumers

Are social media companies spying on us?

Yvette Shapiro was recently on a family vacation in Virginia, discussing with her husband how comfortable their mattress was. Soon after, ads for mattresses appeared on her Facebook feed.

"I said to my husband, 'our phone is listening to us," Shapiro said. "I find that a little invasive, a bit creepy and certainly unwelcome."

Plenty of similar claims appear online, with many consumers asking if social media companies like Facebook and Instagram are spying on them. Another user question: Where is the line?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot down the suggestion when he testified before Congress last year.

To find out who's right, London security company Wandera put our phones to the test. The firm conducted a three-day experiment, playing pet food commercials for 30 minutes with a smartphone in the room and leaving another cellphone in a silent room next door.

"We weren't able to discern any kind of noticeable difference in terms of the adverts that were being received by that phone versus the other adverts from the phone that was in the silent room," Wandera CEO Eldar Tuvey said.

Instead, Tuvey believes our online activity reveals more to tech giants than we realize: "The advertising algorithms can figure out exactly through the searches that we do what we're interested in and then they target those adverts to us."

But people like Shapiro are still not convinced.

"I don't see why they wouldn't be doing this because it's such an obvious money maker," she said.

Whether suspicion or fact, it's unlikely to keep most people off their smartphones.