It all started with a dusty forgotten Christmas present.

Robyn Rosenberger was working in technical support for a Seattle-based software company in 2012. Trying to break up the monotony of her day-to-day routine, she decided to get crafty for her nephew's upcoming second birthday and fished out the dusty sewing machine her husband had gotten her for Christmas two years prior.

Rosenberger wanted something that would please a 2-year-old boy but also be easy enough for her to tackle, seeing as her only prior sewing experience was a single baby blanket she'd made a year before. She settled on a superhero's cape, kicking off a project that would be a welcome challenge from the daily grind at the software company.

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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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