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Instagram's boss says the app doesn't snoop on your conversations for ads

Key Points
  • In a CBS interview, Adam Mosseri addresses a common suspicion about how Instagram targets ads.
  • Mosseri says Instagram does not snoop on users' offline conversations to gain ad-targeting intel.
  • Instead, when users see a product they just talked about in an Instagram ad, it's either "dumb luck" or based on their subconscious memory of previously seeing an ad.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters

Instagram is not eavesdropping on its customers' conversations offline to target them with ads, according to its chief Adam Mosseri.

In an interview airing this week on "CBS This Morning," Mosseri addressed the common suspicion that Instagram and its owner, Facebook, tap into user's phones to gather ad-targeting intelligence.

Mosseri was asked about what happens on the back end when an ad for something just discussed in private uncannily shows up in an Instagram feed.

"There are two ways that can happen," Mosseri said. "One is dumb luck, which can happen. The second is you might be talking about something because it's top of mind because you've been interacting with that type of content more recently. So maybe you're really into food and restaurants. You saw a restaurant on Facebook or Instagram and you really like the thing. It's top of mind, maybe it's subconscious and then it bubbles up later. I think this kind of thing happens often in a way that's really subtle."

Mosseri emphasized that Instagram is not listening in on its users' private discussions through a device's microphone, but acknowledged customers' skepticism. Facebook has suffered a blow to customers' trust in its services' ability to protect privacy since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018. That incident revealed Facebook allowed a third-party service to collect user data without consent that was used to target U.S. voters in the 2016 election.

"But we don't look at your messages, we don't listen in on your microphone, doing so would be super problematic for a lot of different reasons," Mosseri told CBS. "But I recognize you're not going to really believe me."

Watch the interview at CBS News.

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