In September last year, I was having a drink in San Jose with someone from Japan. He’s an old friend of mine and it had been over 25 years since the last time I saw him in person. He now runs a public real estate development company in Japan, and we talked about a US real estate project tied to EB-5 visa program. EB-5 is one-of-a-kind category to get a green card by merely investing money on the US soil, either half million dollars or a million, depending on the location. Many projects and businesses are specifically structured to attract EB-5 investors, and one of them is 15 Hudson Yards, a high-end condominium development in New York. We talked about 15 Hudson as my friend was interested in bringing similar crowdfunding scheme to Japan. We chatted over some other stuff; then I went home.
The very next day, I received in mail the beautifully designed brochure for 15 Hudson Yards pictured above. Barely 18 hours had passed since I uttered the name.
15 Hudson Yards is an 88-story tower that comprises luxury units priced up to 15 million dollars. Clearly the brochure was targeted to a specific audience, and I was not one of them. Besides, I have never lived anywhere else in the US than the Bay Area, and been to New York only three times in my life.
The only plausible scenario I can think of is this: some program was listening in on our conversation, and picked up the keyword “15 Hudson Yards.” Next morning, someone printed the address label at some local depot, slapped the label on a nice vellum envelope, stuffed the brochure in the envelope, got in a car, and slipped the envelope in my mailbox.
I had iPhone (i.e. no eavesdropping Android apps); I didn’t have my Facebook app open; I didn’t search for 15 Hudson. Even spookier, our conversation was in Japanese. Yeah, they got fifuteen-hadoson-yahdo thing right.
A similar cross-language cross-media ad targeting had happened to me in the summer of 2016 too. I was in Tokyo and talked to my sister about her kid’s acne; In Japanese; With my phone in my bag. Next day on my Facebook, an English ad showed up that said: “My Daughter’s Acne Cleared Up.”
I know the rumor that Facebook was listening to its users has been denied both by the company and by some people who fervently investigated the issue. Apple generally won’t let an eavesdropping app slip through its approval process.
But never say never.
Or, could it be that some analytical software knew me so well that it just guessed right that I would talk about a building 3000 miles away at that point in my life?
I’m not sure which is more disturbing: that someone is always eavesdropping on me or that I’m so predictable.