"It's like trying to breathe through a tiny, tiny straw," said Samantha Kamen. Not even a regular straw, but like one of those little red coffee stirrers.

This is how Kamen, marketing and communications manager for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, describes an asthma attack. It's a condition she's had since she was young. "It's a really scary feeling."

One of the top causes of an asthma attack? Air pollution. And it doesn't just affect asthma sufferers. More than half of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. And it's been associated with heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory problems.

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When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

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