Like many couples, my husband and I have a few pet names for each other: ‘baby’, ‘boo’… and I’ll stop right there and swallow my own vomit before it decorates my keyboard. His favourite pet name for me however, is the same as a popular cleaning product.
This morning, as I readied myself for work in the bathroom I heard what sounded like a TV commercial for that cleaning product.
“Shammy!” my husband called from the bedroom. “Listen to this.”
No, he hadn’t just discovered that his pet name for me was also an absorbent cleaning towel, he was showing me a sponsored advertisement from his personal Facebook page. The sponsored video was the same clip that helped ShamWow rise to infamy in the mid-noughties after actor/comedian Vince Offer delivered his abrasive TV pitch.
The Facebook advert sounded similar to this one:
And later it popped up on his Instagram (which Facebook acquired in 2012 for approximately US$1 billion in cash and stock).
You may be thinking, ‘Well, he probably calls you that name in Facebook messages, or even on the public platform.’ You would be wrong.
I searched our entire Facebook Messenger conversation, which spans almost seven years, and there was not one mention of the pet name, in its myriad iterations.
This can not be a coincidence. My husband doesn’t buy cleaning products online, he doesn’t follow any cleaning product pages, he doesn’t write these terms in Google search, and he most certainly doesn’t write about his desire to buy a ShamWow towel.
I’m not the first person to question whether Facebook is using our iPhone and computer microphones and listening to our conversations.
Many before me have even tested the belief. Like UK political and cultural publication the New Statesman, which ran an article in 2018 titled ‘Testing the long-held belief that Facebook listens to your conversations to advertise stuff’.
One of the title’s six tests saw the New Statesman’s sub-editor Lizzie, who was not pregnant at the time, engage in a scripted conversation about being pregnant. Prior to the conversation/experiment, the most recent advert Lizzie saw on Facebook was for Zipcar UK.
Following the conversation, Lizzie was serviced an advertisement about how to keep her child safe online. She was also serviced this advert:
What concerns me most about this, is that in 2016, Facebook released a statement vehemently denying the suggestion it is listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads.
Zuckerburg himself labeled the suggestion a “conspiracy theory” in April of 2018, when he testified before congress. But the sentiment remains; it is theoretically possible for an app or service to record or listen to your conversations.
Whether Facebook unequivocally is or is not listening in remains to be seen. What is clear however, is that the silly pet name my husband gave me is utterly, and undeniably, ruined.