There's someone keeping an eye on your phone's screen, all the time Image: Thinkstock
Advertisements start popping up on your social media accounts even if you make a casual search on the Internet. You're probably used to this trend by now, right?
But this can get murkier than you think.
You know something is not right when you bump into peculiar cat food advertisements soon after discussing it with a friend. The bitter reality is that your phone is always sneaking up on you.
An article on Vice established the fact that your phone is always listening. The writer of the piece revealed how Facebook pop-up ads attempted to sell him cheap return tickets to Tokyo, soon after he discussed the prospect of a holiday in Japan with an iPhone in his pocket.
According to Gizmodo, some computer science academics at Northeastern University in Boston, US, decided to understand this matter through a rigorous study. The researchers experimented with 17,000 Android applications to know whether any of them were capable of recording audio using the phone's microphone.
While some apps belonged to Facebook, around 8,000 others were capable of sending information to the social networking giant.
At the end of the research, they didn't find any concrete evidence on applications recording and sending audio. But they figured that some apps record the phone's screen and send out information to third parties.
Over 9,000 applications, which reportedly had access to the camera and the microphone, captured screenshots and video recordings of people's activity on applications. The sourced information can be anything from your credit card number to your email address.
It was observed that GoPuff, a late-night snack delivery service application, recorded a video of the application's screen and sent it to a mobile analytics company called Appsee. In one case, the recording had the customer's zip code.
When the researchers contacted GoPuff, they said, "We might collect certain personal information such as your name, address, phone number, date of birth, and email address."
Appsee's CEO Zahi Boussiba passed the buck to GoPuff and explained that Appsee's customers can "blacklist" certain parts of their app to prevent the company from recording any information.
According to the Google Play policy, apps must disclose to users how their data is collected.
But the threat to most users is that third-party apps record the screen without consent or notification. This is clearly tantamount to potential stealing of information and personal data.
One of the researchers said, "What people don’t seem to understand is that there’s a lot of other tracking in daily life that doesn’t involve your phone’s camera or microphone that gives the third party just as comprehensive a view of you.”
This reminds us of Norwegian historian, teacher, and political scientist Christian Lous Lange's quote -- "Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master".