You’re not paranoid – your smartphone really is listening in on you, says security expert


No, you’re not being paranoid, your smartphone really is listening in on you at all times, a cyber security expert has warned.

For years, people have suspected that their phone is listening in on them, even when it is not in use.

Some users have claimed that shortly after talking about a particular product or holiday destination adverts for the item started to appear in their social media feeds.

Tech companies have always denied such a practice goes on, although that has done little to ease the suspicions of some users.

Now on researcher claims that it is not a coincidence that certain ads suddenly appear in your new feed and that your smartphone is actually listening in on you.

The researcher even says that the technology could be completely legal and is probably covered under the terms and conditions user’s agree to before downloading an app.

While it’s no secret that most modern smartphones include an AI assistant which are listening in for terms such as “OK Google” or “Hey Siri”.

As it listening in for the wake word or phrase, it discards other words it may pick up.

However, researchers believe that the other words and phrases could be passed onto third party apps such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, providing the right permissions have been enabled.

This means that whenever you chat about a holiday destination or buying a new car, adverts for flights or car dealerships may suddenly pop up in your feed.

Speaking to Vice, Dr Peter Henway, a senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterisk said:

“From time to time, snippets of audio do go back to [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.”

Dr Henway added that firms like Facebook and Instagram could use thousands of audio triggers that use conversations as a way to start showing ads to users of their apps.

“Seeing as Google are open about it, I would personally assume the other companies are doing the same,” Dr Henway said.

“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.”

Facebook has always categorically denied it uses smartphone microphones to gather audio for the purpose of advertising.


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