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Friday 24 January 2020

Hair-raising moment as young scientists discover phones 'spying' on them

RTE radio and TV presenter Jennifer Zamparelli (back) with Ciana Boland, Daniela Cacivkina and Leah Douglas, of Pobalscoil Neasain, Baldoyle
RTE radio and TV presenter Jennifer Zamparelli (back) with Ciana Boland, Daniela Cacivkina and Leah Douglas, of Pobalscoil Neasain, Baldoyle

Have you ever suspected your smartphone is spying on you?

Maybe you were talking about going on holidays, when suddenly deals for Barcelona or Rome popped up on your Facebook feed.

Or maybe you were chatt- ing with a friend about going back to college when you noticed adverts for university courses on Twitter.

Nearly everyone has a tale to tell, but three budding scientists from Dublin wanted to prove once and for all that the microphones in our devices are listening to our private conversations.

Hair

"We decided to put five phones in a room with us and another five outside," said Emma Connolly (16), a pupil at Le Cheile Secondary School, Tyrrelstown.

"We then staged conversations relating to three topics - garden furniture, hair products and waterslides.

"After about 30 minutes, we watched our social media accounts to see if anything we talked about would pop up as advertisements."

What happened next left Emma and her teammates Abigail Cunningham and Kerryann Walker speechless.

"We suddenly started seeing adverts for wigs appearing on Facebook, and on Instagram we got ads for a particular brand of hair conditioners," Emma said.

"None of us had seen ads for these hair-related products before we conducted this experiment, which is why we believe our smartphones are spying on us."

Thousands of young students from across Ireland packed into the RDS to showcase their projects on the second day of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

The event, which is in its 56th year, sees students address issues such as climate change, as well as making innovations in the digital sphere.

Sixty per cent of the projects on show this year relate to climate change and the environment.

A creative trio from Galway came up with an ingenious way to help encourage re- cycling with their Bottleshot invention.

The first-year students' invention led to a staggering 1,248pc increase in recycling at their school.

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