Just how much does your phone spy on you?

Researchers from Northeastern University have recently embarked on a quest to “[look into] the zombie conspiracy which no one ever seems to be able to kill over whether our phones are secretly listening to us to know which ads to present to us.”

You might be familiar with this conspiracy – in fact, you might believe in it. Take, for example, a personal anecdote. You’re at a bar and order a pitcher of Belgian Moon beer to share with friends. The next morning, Belgian Moon is all over your Facebook and Instagram ads. Maybe you’ve experienced something like this. In fact, Facebook and other social media sites are so connected to this conspiracy that Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about it during his Congressional testimony, and tried his best to dismiss it.

What these researchers found is that while it doesn’t seem like audio is being recorded from your phone – that doesn’t mean spying isn’t happening.

The study took 17,260 Android apps and looked at the media files being sent from them. According to Business Insider, “The researchers found no instance in which these apps turned on the phone’s microphone unprompted and sent audio. But they did find that some apps were sending screen recordings and screenshots to third parties.”

In other words, your phone is spying on you… just not via unprompted microphone access. Or, more accurately, the results Northeastern researchers found did not include microphone eavesdropping, which is not to say it absolutely doesn’t happen.

The study’s results have not been officially presented yet – this will happen next month at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona, according to BGR – but the researchers did provide us with some examples. Take junk food delivery app GoPuff; the study explains that this site monitors “user interactions with the app and send[s] them to a mobile analytics company called Appsee.”

The Northeastern researchers have stated in their study that: “Our study reveals several alarming privacy risks in the Android app ecosystem, including apps that over-provision their media permissions and apps that share image and video data with other parties in unexpected ways, without user knowledge or consent. We also identify a previously unreported privacy risk that arises from third party libraries that record and upload screenshots and videos of the screen without informing the user. This can occur without needing any permissions from the user.”

Source: bgr.com – Yes, your phone is spying on you and these researchers proved it
Published: July 4, 2018