By Evi Tsakali,
“They now have the ability to effectively know what you would be interested in before you even do”, said Dr Soteris Demetriou, mobile advertising and security expert in Imperial College London. Can you relate to that quote? Does it remind you of that time when your phone showed you an ad about that product you mentioned to your friend a while ago? You are not the only one. According to a poll organized by Twitter, 80% of users think their phone is listening to them. Indeed, it has been reported to Forbes that Apple employees may be snooping on private Siri conversations. That wouldn’t be impossible, taking into consideration the fact that users unwittingly give their information freely (because, who reads the terms and conditions?). Quitting a social platform does not erase the data you or the network have shared, and you should still care about your privacy, even if you have nothing to hide.
The Wandera experiment
Trying to prove whether our phones are actually listening to us or not, cyber security specialists at Wandera carried out an experiment: they put two phones -one Samsung Android and one Apple iPhone in an “audio room”. For 30 minutes they played cat and dog food adverts on loop. They also put two identical phones in a silent room. They kept apps open for Facebook, Instagram, Chrome, Snapchat, YouTube and Amazon with full permission granted to each platform. After those 30 minutes, they noticed that the possibility of ads related to dogs and cats popping up were significantly higher in the case of the phones put in the “audio room”. Despite this quite shocking realization, Dr Peter Henway, senior security consultant for the cybersecurity firm Asterix, stated that “unless you are a journalist, a lawyer, or have some kind of role with sensitive information, access to your data is only really given to advertisers. If you are like everyone else, living a really normal life, and talking to your friends about flying to Japan, then it is really not that different to advertisers looking at your browsing history.”.
How can I protect my data?
If, however, you would prefer to preserve your anonymity in the digital sphere from now on, you can check these out:
- Search engines: Duck Duck Go, StartPage, Searx
- Emails: ProtonMail (based in Switzerland) and Runbox (based in Norway)
- Private messaging apps: Dust or Signal
Finally, you can also turn your phone’s microphone off and for apps connected to Facebook you can log in and remove their permissions.
P.S to a friend: Yes, they are watching us.
- BBC, Is your phone really listening to you? Available here.
- Forbes, Of course your phone is listening to you, Nathan Pettijohn. Available here.
- VICE podcast, The Vice Guide to Right Now (the podcast by Vice mentioned in the article, episode of June 11 2018). Available here.