You’re not being paranoid — your smartphone really is listening to you, a cybersecurity expert has warned.
For years smartphone users have complained of the creepy feeling their gadget is recording their every word, even when it is sat in their pocket.
Many share a similar story: They were chatting about a niche product or holiday destination with friends, and soon afterwards an advertisement on the same theme appears in their social media apps.
According to one researcher, these oddly pertinent ads aren’t merely a coincidence and your phone regularly listens to what you say.
It’s not known exactly what triggers the technology, but the researcher claims the technique is completely legal and is even covered in the terms of your mobile apps’ user agreements.
Most modern smartphones are loaded with AI assistants, which are triggered by spoken commands, like ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘OK, Google’.
These smartphone models are constantly listening out for the designated wake word or phrase, with everything else discarded.
However, one researcher claims that keywords and phrases picked-up by the gadget can be accessed by third-party apps, like Instagram and Twitter, when the right permissions are enabled.
This means when you chat about needing new jeans, or plans for a holiday in Senegal, apps can plaster your timeline with adverts for clothes and deals on flights.
Dr Peter Henway, a senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterisk, told Vice: ‘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.’
He said companies like Facebook and Instagram could have a range of thousands of triggers to kickstart the process of mining your conversations for advertising opportunities.
For example, a casual chat about cat food or a certain snack may be enough to activate the technology.
‘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.’
Companies are turning to increasingly sophisticated technology to mine your activity on websites and apps to create personalised adverts.
Electronic markers, known as cookies, are used by websites to gather information on users’ online activity, which is then passed to advertisers to tailor digital advertisement to individuals’ tastes and interests.
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