How to use Wi-Fi to get your mother-in-law to go to therapy

Alison Johansen 17 Jul 2023

Your mother-in-law receiving ads for therapy is completely doable and could prove to be great fodder for humor around the dinner table at the next family reunion.

You may have witnessed the social media trend of people talking to their significant others’ phones to influence their ad algorithms. Believe it or not, it isn’t that far-fetched, even if the exact method of talking to someone’s phone isn’t going to get you there. This scenario can play out in multiple ways, all leading back to influencing ad algorithms. You could even potentially do the same things to get your your mother-in-law to finally go to therapy. 

But don’t resort to simply talking at her phone. That’s because while phones aren’t “listening” to us with microphones in the way we might imagine, they are paying attention through data tracking. Now that almost everything in our lives is set up with smart devices like phones, thermostats, TVs, speakers, and more, you can see numerous possibilities for tracking information. 

So there definitely are several ways that tracking the data on one person’s device can result in ads on other devices. But could this extend to, say, your mother-in-law’s device to influence her to go to therapy? Keep reading to find out more about what data tracking is, its umbrella of influence, and what this can mean for you. 

What is data tracking? 

Data tracking is the act — or, some might say, art — of tracking you physically by geolocation and digitally regarding your purchases and other web activities. Data essentially can be tracked on any device that you use. For example, smartphone manufacturers install system apps that track your data. This data tracking can even be done by default, whether you’re using a device or not.  

Not only is your data being tracked, but then it’s being shared. Your data inevitably could be collected, consolidated, and shared between companies to form an even bigger picture of your interests, activities, family, friends, locations, and more. This, in effect, can influence ad algorithms, which can influence what you’re seeing on your devices. 

How does this work? For example, when you first joined Facebook, you were alerted to the fact that they track, collect, and use certain data. Not only that, but companies like Google and Amazon also collect large amounts of data — and then share it with companies like Facebook. Can you imagine this huge reservoir of data? If these companies have data-sharing agreements, imagine how much data they could accumulate on you — and potentially use for advertising and influencing purposes. 

Can you influence data tracking? 

So the data gathered on you can influence ads sent to you. This information tells companies what you’re interested in. But can you, in turn, spin it and intentionally influence what’s being sent to you? And can you influence what’s being sent to more than one device? 

Indeed, another type of tracking is known as cross-device targeting, whereby ad tech companies use IP addresses. Say you’re visiting your mother-in-law and start looking up articles on therapy on your own phone while using her Wi-Fi. Voila! Depending on the algorithms created, you may have just opened your mother-in-law’s devices to ads about therapy as well. 

So while using Wi-Fi to get your mother-in-law to go to therapy may seem far-fetched at first, it isn’t all that off base. Not only could you have an effect on the ads sent to yourself (and the data sent to others about you), but you also could influence the ads sent to others with whom you’re in contact — and the data collected on them. 

What does this mean for your privacy? 

The bottom line is that whatever you do on the internet can be tracked in one way or another. Should you worry about this surveillance? Is it invading your privacy? While you don’t necessarily need to get super stressed — and your mother-in-law can just disregard those therapy ads — you do need to worry about your personal data falling into the wrong hands.  

Another part of the equation is when this valuable data falls into more nefarious hands. Identity theft is real, along with the dark web. You don’t want your personal information being bought and sold at your expense, especially to those who want to steal and use your identity. So in this smart age, you must be careful about anything you share online, along with who has access to your devices.  

Steps you can take to guard your privacy 

There are steps you can take to try to keep your cyber data a bit more private. To start, you can “opt out” of data-tracking by third parties whenever you’re able to. Apple has admirably upped the game for privacy protection by not having third-party tracking automatically activated when you get a new phone, for example. Instead, an iPhone customer has to “opt in” to third-party tracking. (Customers used to have to “opt out” of certain tracking, which they may not have known they had to do or didn’t take the time to do.) 

Also, being careful whenever you’re connected to Wi-Fi will go a long way toward keeping your personal data secure and out of the hands of identity thieves and other cybercriminals.  

Here are some tips to get you started: 

  1. Protect your PII. Never share your Social Security number or other personally identifiable information (PII) online — or in any other way if you don’t have to. 

  2. Watch your clicks. Never click on anything from anyone you don’t know. It could be a link embedded with malware or other things that put your cybersecurity in danger. A good rule of thumb is to simply never click on a link in email if you can get the information another way — especially if it’s in one of those mass emails from your mother-in-law. (Those mass email are notorious for sending along malware to unsuspecting victims who really want to watch that video of a dog snuggling with a baby chick. Who was the first sender? You likely have no idea, so delete the whole email immediately.) 

  3. Be wary of emails. This bears repeating: Don’t open email links or download their attachments if you aren’t sure about the sender. Hackers use phishing emails with malicious links and ads; they will try to make them look very attractive to get you to click on them.  

  4. Be sure a site is secure. Before clicking on a site URL, be sure that website is secure. How? If a website begins with “https” — not “http” — then it means that the URL is secure. Another way to be sure you’re visiting the site you want is by not clicking a site through another site — or via an email link, as mentioned above — that could be embedded with a virus or malware. 

  5. Boost your privacy protection. Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. This means that before gaining access to your account, you may have to input the code you’ve received via text message or another email address. Also create strong, complex passwords with at least 12 characters that include numbers, both capital and lowercase letters, and symbols in a unique combination. 

  6. Watch your Wi-Fi. Be sure that your Wi-Fi is secure. A virtual private network, or VPN, can help keep your data private and encrypted if you must use public Wi-Fi, for example. 

  7. Use firewalls. Don’t forget to set firewalls on your devices, which can serve as your first line of protection against hackers. 

  8. Stay up-to-date. Always be sure to keep your devices updated with the latest software. A good way to do this is to set the “automated” feature for software updates. This will ensure that you have the latest security patches installed, which can protect you from the most recent malware and viruses going around.

The bottom line for your mother-in-law?  

Your mother-in-law receiving ads for therapy is completely doable and could prove to be great fodder for humor around the dinner table at the next family reunion. At the same time, however, it’s no laughing matter when you think about the ways cybercriminals could use that same personal data. You can see how the data you share—intentionally or unintentionally—can have a direct effect on your privacy and security.  

The key to being sure your data isn’t used for something more than humor is to always follow the cybersecurity best practices detailed above, have the highest security settings in place, and “opt out” of data tracking and sharing whenever possible. 

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