Featured recently on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the now-famous ex CIA contractor Edward Snowden spills the beans on a theory we’ve known since the dawn of smartphones. At present, it is a known fact among everyone that our smartphones track and spy on us. There is also a conspiracy and proven fact that our smartphones are even listening to our conversations. This is pretty scary at times coz you come across advertisements about a subject that you have been talking about and never searched online. Our smartphones are literally spying on us by listening to us.
In the interview, Snowden says how smartphones are able to provide information on their owner’s whereabouts, even while not in active use. “Every smartphone, every phone at all, is constantly connected to the nearest cellular tower. Every phone, even when the screen is off – you think it’s doing nothing. You can’t see it because radio frequency emissions are invisible, it’s screaming in the air saying ‘Here I am, here I am.’”. Snowden explains how the IMEI number and IMSI number of each device are used to store data of each individual. He also states that all data irrespective of whether you are an ordinary citizen or a high-profile individual is stored.
Snowden also states one of the key reasons as to why mobile manufacturers have shifted to sealed type battery systems on mobile phones. Answering one of Joe’s questions as to whether the phone cannot spy on us when the mobile is turned off, Edward states that back in the day when the batteries were removable the mobile phones had no chance of spying or tracking. But at present even though we believe the mobile is turned off Snowden claims that there is a gimmick to it. Even though the mobile appears to be turned off the battery is supplied to certain functions that the regular user cannot see.
In this article we talk about 8 different ways how your mobile phone tracks and spies on you.
1. The camera on your smartphone / webcam on your laptop
If the government or an experienced hacker wanted to spy on you by accessing your camera, it’s just a simple task for them. Since almost every mobile phone or smart tech device is connected to the internet, there isn’t a technical reason as to why they cannot access your phone camera without you knowing.
a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2016 when FBI director James Comey was asked whether he covers his laptop camera, he responded, “There are some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them.” It seems that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg agrees. He is known to cover his laptop camera and microphone with tape – and whatever can be done to a laptop camera, can be done to a smartphone camera. Edward Snowden also states that since 2013, when someone needs to be spied on, their smartphone is the first device that is tracked and used to spy. This is because people are less likely to use laptops, desktops, or any kind of wired phone, then they are to use a smartphone. And both Apple and Android devices, unfortunately, are not especially good in protecting your privacy.”
2. Gyroscope and Accelerometer
These two sensors are fundamentals of a current smartphone’s hardware. These sensors are used by several apps to obtain data and information about the user. The functions of a gyro and the accelerometer are defined below.
Gyroscope: This device determines how a phone is positioned in three-dimensional space.
Accelerometer: This sensor reports how fast your phone is moving in a linear pattern.
These sensors are key in providing info to various apps on your phone.
In one recent project, the researchers show how they could determine what letters a user was typing on a mobile phone’s on-screen keyboard–without reading inputs from the keyboard by combining information from the phone’s gyroscope and its microphones. When a user taps on the screen in different locations, the phone itself rotates slightly in ways that can be measured by the three-axis micromechanical gyroscopes found in most current phones
3. EXIF data in pictures
Digital photographs contain information about the pictures known as Exif data, the standard was created to hold stuff that photographers might find useful to know alongside the image, such as the focal length and aperture they used while taking it. It’s used by professionals to embed contact information and copyright details, as well.
Of course, as with most standards, there’s been a bit of feature-creep, and these days, Exif data can contain a whole lot more information. In fact, if you’ve taken a picture with a smartphone, or even a modern digital camera, there’s a good chance that the picture records where it was taken using the built-in GPS. That’s great for building maps of your holidays, but not so good if you’re trading snaps with strangers.
How to turn it off: most cameras let you disable embedding location data in the files, but the good news is that social networks are one step ahead of you – and this time, they’re on your side. Facebook and Twitter both strip the metadata from images uploaded to the site, causing a headache for users who need the extra information but protecting those who don’t know that they’re uploading potentially sensitive data.
4. Smartphone microphone
As we stated in the introduction, YES YOUR SMARTPHONE IS LISTENING TO YOU. Apple admitted in 2019 that it had been doing this for years as part of its Siri project. They later issued an apology for this privacy breach.
Link to : Improving Siri’s privacy protections
The idea that our phones can listen in on conversations became a topic in recent years when platforms like Facebook and Instagram seemed to start serving ads to people based on conversations they had had when their phone was in the room. The video below shows how they conducted a test to prove the validity of the statement that our phones are spying on us by listening to our conversations.
5. Location services
The feature of location services on your smartphone is a key method of how your phone spies on you and tracks you. Whether the operating system is iOS or Android, you do come across a tab under settings specifically for location services. If you have an iPhone, try this: click on settings, then privacy, then location services, system services, and frequent locations. You’ll notice a list of all the cities you’re in regularly. Click on any specific city, and you’ll find that your phone knows all the locations you frequently visit.
Don’t feel smug if you use Android instead: Google keeps just as copious notes on your location and, unlike Apple, it is stored in the cloud, where it can theoretically be subpoenaed by law enforcement or accessed by a suspicious partner who happens to know your password.
How to disable: both companies let you turn off location histories from the same pages you can look at yours. But if you do that, they’ll get a lot worse at giving you accurate and useful location suggestions. There’s that pesky trade-off again.
6. Like/Share buttons of social media platforms on websites
When browsing through a website you come across several like and share buttons of social media platforms on the website. Even though you don’t use Facebook or other social media platform these like/share buttons pop up. If you click on it, you can like the page of a company, person, or brand, all without leaving the website you’re on. Facebook share buttons and Facebook comments, both of which hook into the company’s servers to provide their own features. But it’s a two-way relationship: the price you pay for being able to interact with Facebook even without going to their website is that they can see the other websites you’re on, following you around the internet and using that information to better target ads and content to you back on the mothership.
7. Apps on your smartphone / device
If you are using smartphone apps, it is a certainty that your data is being harvested – and these are only the outwardly non-malicious apps that actually ask for permission. Hackers who are specifically targeting you will try to gain access to your camera by sending you emails or texts with a malicious link or file that will grant them access if you click on it. There are certain apps built just to spy and harvest data about you. The article below explains how many apps harvest data even if you deny them access.
Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute found up to 1,325 Android apps that were gathering data from devices even after people explicitly denied them permission. Serge Egelman, director of usable security and privacy research at the ICSI, presented the study in late June at the Federal Trade Commission’s PrivacyCon.
The study looked at more than 88,000 apps from the Google Play store, tracking how data transferred from the apps when they were denied permissions. The 1,325 apps that violated permissions on Android used workarounds hidden in its code that would take personal data from sources like Wi-Fi connections and metadata stored in photos.
8. Advertising ID of your smartphone
This is a number unique to your phone that is sent to advertisers and app makers that tracks your online activity. You can disable this feature in your privacy settings. You should only download reputable applications to minimize the chance of ending up with a malicious app on your phone. Running a regular malware and virus scan on your smartphone can help you to identify and delete any potentially harmful applications