I enjoy watching YouTube, but the worst part is the ads. (I’m too cheap/poor to pay for YouTube Premium.) But I don’t mind the ads too much because they are short (5-15 seconds), and you can often skip them after a few seconds. But sometimes they’ll give you one of those survey ads that last longer unless you click the button. Or a random two-minute-long ad that you can skip after 5 seconds, but you have to press the “skip ad” button. Which, if you step away from your device and are listening from a distance, you can’t press the button and are stuck listening to the entire ad.
It’s not a big deal, but something I noticed is that those longer ads tend to play more frequently when I’m not at the screen. It’s almost as if YouTube (Google) knew I wasn’t there. Which got me thinking: Is it possible they have access to our device’s camera while we are using Google/YouTube/Chrome and they are watching us?
I don’t think there are engineers at Google literally watching us. That would be impossible. They simply don’t have the manpower to watch the entire world. But… They could program AI to view our front-facing cameras and detect whether there is or isn’t a human face on the screen. This would be a fairly simple algorithm that just needs to recognize a human face. Google’s AI has become quite good at that through the data they collect from Google Photos and other apps.
Why would Google want to watch you while you’re watching YouTube to see if you’re at the screen and able to press the “skip ad” button? To maximize ad revenue. If they know you’re right at the screen, attentive when an ad is about to play, you’ll probably press “skip ad” right away, so they’d be more apt to play an un-skippable short 5-10 second ad. But if you’re not at the screen, busying doing something else within earshot, then they’ll play a longer ad because you may be too busy to come to the device to press skip and will listen to the entire ad.
Of course, it’s possible I’m being paranoid and just happen to notice the longer ads when I’m not at the screen, and they actually occur regularly—or completely randomly. But did that stop me from putting black tape over my front-facing camera lenses? No.