Is your phone really listening?

One evening you are having a nice chat with a friend about a trip to Barcelona you wanted to do for a while now. The next morning you wake up, open Facebook and your timeline is full of ads of cheap flights to Barcelona and hotels in the city. Coincidence? Maybe not.

According to professor Kelli Burns from the University of South Florida, we have to be careful with private conversations around our phones. To test this, she spoke about different subjects near her phone. After that, Facebook showed her advertisements about the subjects discussed on the phone.


Apps are collecting your information

Yet, it’s not only Facebook that may be listening to you. There are many apps, mainly games, where you need your microphone. Beer Pong, Honey Quest and Bird Zappers are a few examples.

Alphonso, the company behind these apps claims the users know they can be listened to, because when starting the app they give permission for the use of the microphone. Because people want to use the app quickly or play the game, they tend to press yes, without considering the consequences.

While Facebook denies recording personal conversations, they do listen to the surroundings of the phone. Different apps could be using similar methods as Alphonso, while your phone is in your pocket or while watching TV. With these methods advertisers know what you are watching on TV allowing them to adjust their ads accordingly.

Facebook states that they collect user infromation to help them, and that it is not used for advertisements.


Triggers, keywords and personal details

Dr. Peter Hannay, the senior security consultant for the cyber security firm Asterisk, states there must be a trigger, like “Hey Siri” or “Ok Google”, to record audio. When a trigger like this is not there, the information should only be processed in your phone. Although some apps could have access to this ‘non-triggered’ data in some cases.

According to Dr. Hannay, small audio clips are being sent to servers from apps like Facebook and Instagram. What might trigger these audio clips is still not known, It can be time, device location, or even the different apps you use. There can be thousands of triggers and keywords used by companies, and only they know what they are. The data is completely encrypted, making it very difficult to find out what the triggers are.


Not a coincidence after all?

Compared to other apps, Facebook is probably the platform that knows the most about us. Using your Facebook login details while signing up for a service you are enabling an exchange of information.

When you send a link through WhatsApp to your friend of that new smartwatch you would like to buy, Facebook knows this because WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.

By posting a picture with your location on Instagram, Facebook knows this as well because it is also owned by Facebook.

Facebook also shows you ads based on friend likes, shares and behavior. If your friends like or share something, there is a big chance you might be interested as well.

In the end the choice is yours to make if you think it is a coincidence or not. After all, Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), isn’t covering his microphone and camera for nothing…

Sources: Nos, Vice, de Volkskrant, Independent




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