“If there was an active shooter, you’d all be dead,” Kayleigh, an elementary school-aged girl introduced as an “expert” bluntly tells a group of adult workers assembled in their office mail room for a team building event.

“When you talk out loud, the shooter can tell where you are and where you’re hiding,” she continues. “Sometimes we play the game ‘who can stay quietest the longest’ so we all remember.”

The adults look uncomfortable and about as shocked and disturbed as can be expected that an innocent-looking child is instructing them on how to try and protect themselves by pushing tables and chairs against doors, placing paper over windows, and crouching on toilet seats in the bathroom. Then we see what was likely flashing in their minds as Kayleigh spoke — young children carrying out these actions in a classroom.

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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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