Facebook isn’t spying on everything you say. Your data plan would be higher, and your battery life worse, if that were the case.
And yet the conspiracy theory that apps are listening to your in-person conversations and using them to show ads persists. So researchers at Northeastern University decided to look into it, testing 17,000 Android apps and monitoring what kind of information they sent home.
Here’s Kashmir Hill, writing for Gizmodo about their study:
Sorry, conspiracy theorists: They found no evidence of an app unexpectedly activating the microphone or sending audio out when not prompted to do so. Like good scientists, they refuse to say that their study definitively proves that your phone isn’t secretly listening to you, but they didn’t find a single instance of it happening. Instead, they discovered a different disturbing practice: apps recording a phone’s screen and sending that information out to third parties.
That’s right: apps aren’t spying you on using your microphone, but surprise: they are spying on you! Turns out it’s fairly common practice for free apps to take screenshots and videos of your in-app activity. Hill:
The strange practice they started to see was that screenshots and video recordings of what people were doing in apps were being sent to third party domains. For example, when one of the phones used an app from GoPuff, a delivery start-up for people who have sudden cravings for junk food, the interaction with the app was recorded and sent to a domain affiliated with Appsee, a mobile analytics company. The video included a screen where you could enter personal information—in this case, their zip code.
Call me a dreamer, but maybe if we all stopped worrying about the microphone myth we’d have the energy to get upset about the widespread privacy violations that are actually happening. Maybe.
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