Your phone is not listening to you, but it may secretly watching everything you do, therefore it would be a kind of spying. Researchers have uncovered that phone applications record video footage and screenshots of your activity and then send the recordings to third parties. It would be a disaster to know that someone is watching you and your phone is spying on you.
In some cases, the secretive filming captures personal information of users, including their zip or postcode. Scientists made the find while investigating the long-held rumour that apps are capable of hijacking microphones in smart devices to secretly record audio to help them better target advertisements displayed online.
Smartphone users have for years complained of the creepy feeling their gadget is listening to their every word. Even while stowed away in their pocket. But the new study found no evidence of the practice ever taking place.
Phone Spying on You: Reports
Scientists at Northeastern University in Boston ran an experiment that tested 17,260 of the most popular Android apps, including many owned by Facebook. Of those investigated, more than half had permission to access users’ camera and microphone, allowing them to activate the features any time the app was open.
Researchers used an automated programme to analyse photo, video and audio files sent to and from the apps – which were loaded onto ten Android devices – but found no evidence that any were secretly recording using the built-in microphone.
The latest findings dispel the enduring rumour that apps like Facebook periodically record conversations and send keywords to third parties to help them target adverts.
Paranoid users have complained that after chatting about niche topics or holiday destinations, relevant ads will often appear across their apps or online browsing. A closer look at the results from the study shows that while apps were not listening, some do regularly record footage and screenshots of what users are doing. The software then forwards this information to third-party domains for analysis.
Researchers caught one app – GoPuff – recording the screens of users and sending the footage to mobile analytics firm Appsee.
Researchers did notice several apps had taken video recordings and screenshots of what people were doing. These screenshots were then sent off to third-party domains.
So by attempting to debunk one conspiracy theory, researchers were able to create a situation primed for another one to take its place. And without easily recognizable disclosures from companies that your screen may be recorded, this new theory may persist just as strongly as the one the researchers were sick of hearing about.
The Bottom Line
There are steps that all technology users can take to minimize those creepy vibes.
The easiest way to avoid this is to stop giving online companies more of your information. Before you take an online quiz, try to figure out which company was behind that quiz. Don’t open emails from places you’ve never heard of. Use online tools like Ghostery to see how much information the sites you regularly visit are tracking you across the internet. The important thing isn’t the fact that data is being collected. It is how that data is used to create a digital image of you as a person and who has the ability to use that information to push things on you.
After all, smartly snooping phones and technology is the reality that is not going away anytime soon.
With billions of IoT [Internet of Things] and smart devices, artificial intelligence and voice-controlled home devices and the decline of print media which has increased the need for data to serve digital ads, it is not only growing but is the new norm. Check your phone’s privacy settings; disable your microphone for apps not in use. And you need to be mindful about what you are giving up in terms of your privacy when you opt for the convenience of an app.