years, smartphone users have been growing increasingly suspicious
that their devices are listening to them to feed them
advertisements and to “enhance their experience” on third-party
apps. Companies like Google and Facebook have consistently denied
these claims, saying that targeted ads and messages are merely a
coincidence, and that data for these services are taken in other
earlier this year during the Cambridge Analytica scandal we began
to see some of the first hints that our phones may actually be
listening to us.
Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie says that they have
probably been listening all along. During anappearancebefore
the UK parliament, Wylie said,“There’s
audio that could be useful just in terms of, are you in an
office environment, are you outside, are you watching TV, what
are you doing right now?”
the scandal, experts who have studied this possibility began
revealing their surprising results.
Vice, Dr. Peter Hannay, the senior security consultant for the
cybersecurity firm Asterisk, explained how third-party apps
exploit a loophole to gather the voice data from your phone.
said that while your microphone is always on, your voice data is
only sent out to other parties if you say specific trigger words
such as “Hey Siri” or “OK Google,” but there is a catch.
Third-party apps often ask to gain access to voice data in their
user agreements to “enhance the experience” of their products.
“From time to time, snippets of
audio do go back to [other apps like Facebook’s] servers but
there’s no official understanding what the triggers for that
are. Whether it’s timing or location-based or usage of certain
functions, [apps] are certainly pulling those microphone
permissions and using those periodically. All the internals of
the applications send this data in encrypted form, so it’s very
difficult to define the exact trigger,”Hannay
this process is becoming more obvious by the day, many tech
companies continue to deny that they are engaged with this
practice, and since all of the outgoing information is encrypted
there is no way of telling exactly which information they are
getting and how they are using it.
“Seeing Google are open about
it, I would personally assume the other companies are doing the
same. Really, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be. It makes
good sense from a marketing standpoint, and their end-user
agreements and the law both allow it, so I would assume they’re
doing it, but there’s no way to be sure.”Hannay
reporters then conducted their own experiment, saying random
phrases into their phones and then seeing advertisements
affiliated with those terms pop up in their news feeds. You can
try this experiment at home yourself, and it is highly likely that
you have experienced results like this by accident.
April, I experienced something like this when a friend visited my
house from the west coast. I picked him up from the
Baltimore-Washington airport and during a conversation about his
flight, he told me that he had a layover in Charlotte, North
Carolina, and mentioned that they had a nice airport.
following morning I woke up with these messages on my phone:
Oddly enough,I have
never been to Charlotte, North Carolina, never really thought
about the place, and have never typed anything about that
place into Google or Facebook. But sure enough, after having a
conversation about the airport in Charlotte, my phone thought
I was interested.
of right now, there is no way to avoid this spying, aside from
being extremely careful about the apps that you sign up for, and
actually reading their user agreements—or getting rid of your cell
phone altogether, which could be counterproductive if you use it