Smartphones: Your personal assistant or a covert spy?

Is your smartphone listening to your conversations?

Our smartphones have inherently become an attached part of our beings. For good or bad, they go absolutely everywhere with us. Most cannot imagine being apart from them. (A topic recently discussed in The Wall Street Journal) They are never far away. In fact, we even sleep next to them! But, did you know, these personal little devices that we cannot stand to live without are technically tiny little data recorders recording a great deal of information when most of us have no idea.

Don’t believe me? Click on this link. If you are a user of all things Google, and most of us are, you can see all of your past activity within all Google services. If you filter it by date and product and choose “Voice and Audio”, you can view all audio recordings that you have used through voice search! Now, this is just the stuff your you are speaking in to Google. What is every other app you have downloaded recording?

On a recent trip with a friend, we were discussing a specific product. Specifically, we were discussing the trend of bone broth proteins versus collagen proteins. Neither of us knew much but had heard some raving benefits from acquaintances. My friend pulled up a specific add on her Facebook feed to get the brand so that once we got home we could do a bit more research. That was the end of the conversation. The very next morning I opened my Instagram Feed. (Remember, she looked it up on her Facebook feed and I did not have any applications open.) There on my Instagram feed was an advertisement for the specific protein we had discussed. Wow, I was blown away. How did this happen?? I started looking in to this coincidence and found people discussing similar situations all over the web! So, how is this happening and how difficult is it to build software to listen in?

A bit over a year ago, the BBC took this concept to a cybersecurity expert. The question was posed: could an application snoop over a smartphone microphone without the user noticing? The answer, absolutely! Within a couple of days, the experts were able to build an app using the functionality that already existed on their phones. This technology was able to access the phone’s microphone and record any sound near the phone and, in real time, the spoken words were appearing on a screen connected to a listening server. This all was happening with such minimal battery drain that the user would never notice the difference. Wild, huh?

How is this legal and what are apps like Facebook saying about it? It is technically not legal to access your phone’s microphone without your permission. Recently the FTC cracked down on technology that was recording information without user approval specifically, SIlverPush (which is a another interesting topic in itself.) Although applications cannot access our phones’ microphones without our consent, how many of us actually read the acceptance agreements when downloading apps? And if you do, how many people have enough legal jargon experience to decipher these lengthy contracts? We may actually be agreeing to such access without even knowing! High profile apps such as Facebook, have denied “using your phone’s microphone to change what you see in News Feed,” but, coincidences are obviously happening just like the advertisement that appeared in my own Instagram feed! So, there may not be any proof yet on who is and who isn’t recording your information but it is clear that it is possible and the coincidences imply someone is listening! I’m personally going to take the stance that whatever I say, wherever I might be, my words are somehow being recorded somewhere, somehow.

If you are equally as intrigued and freaked out as me, reach out to some experts to learn more about what is happening in technology. The team at Pendello Solutions can educate you on where your security imperfections may exist and how to keep you safe from your own technology!

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