Phones spying on you

Table of Contents

Is your phone surreptitiously monitoring you?

Yes. Of course, it is. You knew that, I knew that, it’s just a given these days. But, it’d also perhaps quite a bit worse than you may have suspected. Many top apps, for instance, are secretly taking screenshots and videos and sending them to other people, according to a new study.

That means, of course, anything that shows up on your screen could be digital fodder.

“We found that thousands of popular apps have the ability to record your screen and anything you type,” said David Choffnes told Techxplore. “That includes your username and password, because it can record the characters you type before they turn into those little black dots.”

So much is worse than we first think — especially in cybersecurity. But damn, this is bottom barrel. I’m no slouch when it comes to security, but this trumps even my memorized 28 character iPhone passphrase.

The study started because a pair of students — Elleen Pan and Jingjing Ren — wanted to investigate the common urban legend that phones are listening in conversations and shooting out adverts based on that. I think we’ve all had that feeling when a friend tells us about a new thing and then suddenly that’s your top suggested item on Amazon. And that is the absolute worst feeling of deja vu. Unfortunately, while that isn’t exactly what’s happening, the reality is quite a bit worse.

“We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Choffnes, “and we were surprised to find several needles.”

“This opening will almost certainly be used for malicious purposes,” said Christo Wilson, another professor who supervised the students. “It’s simple to install and collect this information. And what’s most disturbing is that this occurs with no notification to or permission by users. In the case we caught, the information sent to a third party was zip codes, but it could just as easily have been credit card numbers.”

The fact that there were “no audio leaks at all,” according to Wilson leaves me with a bizarre feeling of unease though. Because we all know that happens, but, then again, if Target can figure out you’re pregnant like two months in, maybe we really are that predictable.

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Here is what the former FBI director James Comey said when he was asked back in September 2016 if he covered his laptop’s webcam with tape.

“Heck yeah, heck yeah. Also, I get mocked for a lot of things, and I am much mocked for that, but I hope people lock their cars … lock your doors at night. I have an alarm system, if you have an alarm system you should use it, I use mine.”

If he does, we all should.

Who could be accessing your camera and microphone?

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Viber

Felix Krause described in 2017 that when a user grants an app access to their camera and microphone, the app could do the following:

  • Access both the front and the back camera.
  • Record you at any time the app is in the foreground.
  • Take pictures and videos without telling you.
  • Upload the pictures and videos without telling you.
  • Upload the pictures/videos it takes immediately.
  • Run real-time face recognition to detect facial features or expressions.
  • Livestream the camera on to the internet.
  • Detect if the user is on their phone alone, or watching together with a second person.
  • Upload random frames of the video stream to your web service and run a proper face recognition software which can find existing photos of you on the internet and create a 3D model based on your face.

For instance, here’s a Find my Phone application which a documentary maker installed on a phone, then let someone steal it. After the person stole it, the original owner spied on every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone.

The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth to going to work. To grabbing a bite to eat with their co-worker to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.

The government

  • Edward Snowden revealed an NSA program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance program under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use. It is estimated that between 3% and 11% of the images captured contained “undesirable nudity”.
  • Government security agencies like the NSA can also have access to your devices through in-built backdoors. This means that these security agencies can tune in to your phone calls, read your messages, capture pictures of you, stream videos of you, read your emails, steal your files … at any moment they please.

Hackers

Hackers can also gain access to your device with extraordinary ease via apps, PDF files, multimedia messages and even emojis.

An application called Metasploit on the ethical hacking platform Kali uses an Adobe Reader 9 (which over 60% of users still use) exploit to open a listener (rootkit) on the user’s computer. You alter the PDF with the program, send the user the malicious file, they open it, and hey presto – you have total control over their device remotely.

Once a user opens this PDF file, the hacker can then:

  • Install whatever software/app they like on the user’s device.
  • Use a keylogger to grab all of their passwords.
  • Steal all documents from the device.
  • Take pictures and stream videos from their camera.
  • Capture past or live audio from the microphone.
  • Upload incriminating images/documents to their PC, and notify the police.

And, if it’s not enough that your phone is tracking you – surveillance cameras in shops and streets are tracking you, too

  • You might even be on this website, InSeCam, which allows ordinary people online to watch surveillance cameras free of charge. It even allows you to search cameras by location, city, time zone, device manufacturer, and specify whether you want to see a kitchen, bar, restaurant or bedroom.

How would we feel if someone were standing outside our bedroom window, staring in through the curtains. The most common response would be to call the police. However, what do we do when everyone is being monitored? We shake our head, and try to forget it’s happening. Try to go on with our lives and ignore the constant nag that we’re being watched.

If this article achieves anything, I hope it teaches you digital mindfulness. This is the act of being careful on the internet and taking precautionary measures to save yourself pain and potential ruin in the future, all because you didn’t install an antivirus or put a little bit of tape over your camera.

A good first step to counteracting these issues is study what permissions an app asks for. Does an app like LinkedIn really require camera access? Does an app like Twitter really require microphone access? Before you download an app, check out the reviews and search for any negative information about it to prevent yourself future harm.

Always make sure to cover your webcam with tape, and plug out your microphones when you’re done using them. You never know who’s watching, or what’s happening in the background on your device. It’s only paranoia until it’s too late.

  • Dylan Curran is a data consultant and web developer who does extensive research into spreading technical awareness and improving digital etiquette

Know if Someone Is Spying on My Phone

Is spying possible on c1-01 mobile?

Is spying possible on c1-01 mobile, can anyone read my messages and see my call list.

Usually, a phone like the c1-01 has to be jailbroken first. However, spy apps are getting better by the minute to compete with, and some, like mSpy, do not need a jailbroken device for them to install.

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See more questions like this: Are double messages from someone a sign that he is spying on me?

How can I tell if someone is spying on my WiFi?

Can an app like “Fing” be used to see if someone is spying on my device via WiFi?

Fing and Wifi Inspector are two out of several apps that can detect who is using your WiFi and if they are spying using your WiFi. You will see them when you use the apps mentioned.

Can someone spy on your text or phone calls without having access to your phone?

My phone is always hot (only have a few apps), battery quickly runs down, and I hear noises such as popping or clicking sounds, someone saying hello, someone sneezing, the person that was on the phone with me also heard the sounds. Recently, got a new phone but used an app to transfer all info, data, & pics. New Android Note5 phone has same issues, battery runs down to 50% before noon (only have a few apps), very hot, and noises! Husband also has the same issue. Someone accessed pics off of his phone and began prank texting him and sending his pics to him.. I have tried: Tried anti spy mobile on my phone, no results. I think it was caused by: Don’t know

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Anti-spy software should have picked up a spy app, although I would first lock down your wireless router to see if anything changes just in case the hacker gained access using the wireless router. Most spy apps do not make sound and listening real time to calls is muted on the other end so you would not hear sneezing. There may also be a problem with your cell provider’s local network towers, and there is cross call contamination happening. Just one app like Facebook can drain a battery fast if you are always logged in and do not force stop the app each time you exit. Skype is another app that drains the battery quickly, just running in the background and so is Google Maps if your location is always turned on. Try using an app like Advanced Task Killer or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.oasisfeng.greenify Greenify to see if that helps your phone battery and interference issues.

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See more questions like this: I would like to know if I use WiFi from enterprise, am I at risk that guys can read my WhatsApp chat, Facebook chat, Viber, etc.? There are Cisco applications to give Internet access, but they are configured and managed by a WiFi controller.

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I am sure I’m being spied on, yet can’t prove it, can you help?

People seem to know everywhere I go, and everything I say even in my vehicle. I have tried: Not much. Counter-surveillance. I think it was caused by: Revenge being done by some people.

It is entirely possible that somebody has installed spyware on your phone while you were not around. For it to be installed, the person or people that you suspect are spying on you, would have had to have access to your phone for at least thirty minutes, while they installed a program like FlexISP, Highster Mobile, mSpy, iKeyMonitor, Spy Bubble or PhoneSheriff. These programs can track your location through GPS, remotely control the phone, block messages, access your passwords, record surroundings, listen in on your phone calls and intercept your calls. Removing your SIM card does not help in this case because the software has been secretly installed onto your phone itself.

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Sometimes these programs leave behind a mysterious file installer file. This installer file is sometimes named right after the spying app. Such is the case with Mobistealth. The file is named movistealthv2.apk. You can also look for hidden subdirectories, with the help of a cell phone geek. These files might be identified as installer/, .radio or as .log.

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Another clue is if you suspect that your phone has been jailbroken. All spying programs need access to your internet for them to work. You can stop the spying application immediately by upgrading its firmware, which has the effect of un-jailbreaking your phone.

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Finally, your phone may be trying to warn you that there is a problem by actually displaying a message warning of “superuser access” on your phone.

How can I know or catch the person spying on my BlackBerry 9320 phone?

I want to know the person spying on my BlackBerry 9320

Choose in settings Options then Advanced and finally, Applications. You will see all apps that are installed listed there, including any spy apps there as well. There is currently no keylogger spyware apps for Blackberry but if you think your accounts have been compromised; you should change your email passwords anyway.

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See more questions like this: I was gifted with a phone by a person long over-interested in me, he is behaving super weird ever since, now I wonder, did he put a spyware?

Hi my big brother is a big issue; I think he is spying on my phone?

My phone from back lid warms continuously, automatic apps open in slow speed. I have tried: Nothing else. I think it was caused by: Hacking. I’m pretty sure.

This issue is probably not because of hacking but because your phone can’t handle the amount of data from apps that you are using on a daily basis. Apps like and https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cleanmaster.mguard&hl=en Clean Master can be used to boost the speed of your mobile device. When your phone is lagging, using these apps will significantly improve its performance.

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Is there any software that I can use to prevent spyware?

I think someone is spying on my phone because my parents seem always to know what I’m saying and know how much money I got due to me being so open in my phone calls to my friend about it. Not that I don’t want them to know, it’s just that I need my own space. I’m 22 years on for crying out loud, like give me a break.

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Although you are 22, you are still their child, and they care about you. If you are on their cell provider contract, many companies now offer cell device monitoring features within their family plan. You can download an anti-spyware like Malwarebytes or https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.koebenapps.wiretapdetection&hl=en Koebenapps Wiretap Detection to make sure. Have you considered they might be simply listening at your door? Regardless, parents have this uncanny sixth sense about their children to the point that there is no need for a spy app. You can turn 30 and still be their little bundle of joy, and they will always care about you. Try to gain more independence and space by thanking them for their concern but ask that they allow you to make your own decisions as an adult and let them know that you will never learn how to be on your own unless you make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

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Yes, please help? I am not tech savvy; I think my husband has put something on my phone to track my text messages because he asks questions just a couple hours that pertain to a conversation I just had in a text with someone else

All this tech stuff is confusing me. How do I know for certain? I already installed the AntiSpy Mobile app, and it came out clean. I have tried: Installed and ran the app AnitSpy Mobile. I think it was caused by: Not sure

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You can also look in your settings and under Application Manager to see if any spy apps are installed. Your anti-spyware app that you installed should have picked up any spy apps, but make sure by checking your settings in the Application Manager as well. Is it possible that he is speaking with the other person that you are texting with, and that is how he is getting the information? If you are on a joint account for your cell plan, he can view incoming text and call numbers but not the messages, yet that could be giving him clues.

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I feel a spyware is on my S4 mobile?

Somebody, probably my wife, installed a spy on my S4. How to remove because we are fighting every day when I am back home. I have tried: Nothing just googled and got your link

Use an anti-spyware app and check your Application Manager to see if any spy apps are listed in there as well. You should ask her if she felt the need to download a spy app, and if she did, why is there so much distrust. Do not go into the conversation defensively but offer a solution to rebuild the trust between you so that your relationship can begin to flourish again.

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How do I know if someone downloaded and saved my HP information to their thumb drive or laptop?

How to identify? How to prevent it? What am I supposed to do? Thank you.

You can go into downloads and see when the last time that area was accessed. You also can set up security through Windows that password protects your files from being downloaded as well. Why would someone want your files? Make a list of possible suspects that have access to your HP device to try to determine who would take your data.

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How do I get rid of spyware if on my phone? Conversations I’ve not shared with my husband he knows about

I’ve been noticing a lot of different things going on with my phone, and conversations I’ve not shared with my husband he knows about. Last week my office manager helped me transfer pictures and contacts to my computer, and restore it back to factory settings. I feel like there is another something on my phone. As, my battery is draining too fast, and this morning I’ve got it charging on my computer and a notification about low battery and something else showed up. Before I could read what it said, it was gone. My battery was at 80% charged. I need some help if you could guide me I’d greatly appreciate it. Now I am seriously thinking about getting something to install on my husband’s phone to trace/track him. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I am not a techie person. Thanks

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You did a factory reset your phone, and if a spy app were on there, that would have removed it. He would have had to re-install a new spy app onto the reset phone to continue monitoring.

I think my soon to be ex is tracking my texts etc?

I think my soon to be ex is tracking my texts, emails, location. I turned the location off and turned on an anti-spyware. The only thing that comes up is “A message spying attempt was detected done by APP Sprint Zone.” (I have Sprint) should I be worried?

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The anti-spyware is detected as a spy app through most regular cell check monitoring. If the app were turned on at the time, you would have gotten a message of possible compromise. You should not be worried unless you see a downloaded spy app in your applications setting other than your anti-spyware app.

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Is my phone being tracked or bugged?

If so, by whom and by which phone number and how long has it been. I have tried: This website. I think it was caused by: Noise in phone

Download an anti-spyware app if you are using a mobile device to check for any spy applications that may be downloaded onto your phone. Sometimes, cell phones will just have a bad connection due to a problem with your cell tower, which can cause a static type noise on your phone. To see if that is the issue, hang up and place the call again. Often when you reconnect to a tower, the static and noise will be gone.

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See more questions like this: Hi there I’ve had a lot of problems with my 12 month old iPhone 6..All the usual suspect happening, I’m reading we are told may mean your phone is hacked (my email, Facebook, Facebook Messenger) to name few. Crash logs are continuous?

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Well I don’t have an SD card in my phone and never had, and data just recently started getting saved on it but there is nothing there?

It started off with my S5, my phone was named after my girlfriend phone, and hers was an S4, but our names were the same except mine had a 2 after it. I just got this phone a couple months back and I think she did it again. She is not smart enough for that it is her parents. I’m 21 and she is 19, I’ve never cheated, they know I’m loyal. I think they’re using it against me. I think there are blackhats. I have tried: I’ve destroyed my Galaxy S5 because of it, I was going to try rooting it and getting the files out individually, but I don’t have a computer and I just recently started reading up on my tech stuff. I’ve read a lot but still don’t have a computer. I think it was caused by: I don’t know

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A spy app would have had to be installed. If you enabled a Cloud app, your data would suddenly be saved. Some Cloud apps have a cloud feature that you may not have realized was a part of the app.

You say that you are loyal and not cheating. So instead of being so paranoid by the fact that her parents are spying on your phone, go about your days as you usually would and let them look all they want because they will find nothing. I highly doubt though, that they are taking the time to spy on you or their daughter.

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See more questions like this: Yes, my pointer on my chrombook started moving by itself last week?

I have a very strong feeling that someone is using my Gmail account, but I don’t know how to get out of this?

How can I know? If someone is using it? And from where?

My Account in Google allows you to set up security functions. You can see under Device & Activity Notifications a history of all the devices that have accessed your Google accounts as well as set up further notifications.

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Can my Android phone be hacked with a computer code such that my WhatsApp messages appear on someone else’s phone?

Can a programmer write code to make my messages appear on someone else’s phone? If possible does the person receive them as you receive them? What does the programmer require to be able to do that? This involves a code being written manually, and not a spy software being installed. I have tried: Nothing. I do not know where to start from. This is no spy software case. I think it was caused by: Curiosity and insecurity on the side of the other person

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They can put a keylogger on your PC if you use one and get your login details on any online programs/social media you use. They also have programs mentioned above like WireShark that can track what happens on your home router. Never assume that a spy app is not installed on your phone. It is super easy to do, and all the major ones support WhatsApp sniffing. Apps can also be installed if you download a picture that someone sent you. There are ways to insert the spy app code into the image.

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My Galaxy S4 Android is supposedly being spied upon as I was told by a Yahoo mail tech?

Today I was unable to get my Yahoo mail app to open on my Galaxy S4. A message would pop up saying to try again later. So I called Yahoo email tech support. They told me someone is monitoring my IP from Russia. In doing so, they are blocking my access to my Yahoo app and could be watching my online transactions. OK, I asked how to block it all this tech did was try to sell my software to block my IP. I cannot afford such a thing. So I asked if I get another phone would this stop? He said no my IP goes with me so they could still monitor my phone. Please tell me I can just use my other phone and this will stop. And if it will only happen again, how do I prevent this? Hide my IP? Because it is being monitored. As the tech said my email is being monitored by someone in Russia. I have tried: Just tried the app described on here. It says no spyware on my phone, but the tech said someone is monitoring it. I think it was caused by: I have no clue. I have added one app in the last few months. It is an app extractor to move certain apps to another phone

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You can change the IP address on your device. The University of Oregon IT department has an online tutorial of how to change the IP on Android devices. You will also want to scrub the data/content/OS of any devices connected to your home router and lock your router down. This YouTube Tutorial shows you how to change the IP of your Samsung S4.

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Didn’t find anything with the Antispy mobile, but it was the free app version, does it really work? What else can I do?

I can’t find anything on this site to be helpful. For example, I don’t know how much data my phone was using before I noticed suspicious activity. My phone doesn’t get hot, but that doesn’t mean no spy is installed does it? The suspected spy is asking questions about things I did (making a sound or not) but didn’t tell them. Everything I do to find answers for my suspicions has to be done discretely. I can’t do the thing with the modem because it wouldn’t be hidden. Don’t know how much extra data is unusual. I have tried: Antispy mobile didn’t find anything, is it possible it didn’t detect it. I have reset the phone back to factory data. Because I have to sleep eventually, it was put back on my phone at least 3 times. I think it was caused by: She thinks I’m a cheater, even though I have proven that I’m not many times, she continues to spy.

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Enable your phone lock screen after you hard reset it one more time. Do not use a pin that you normally use and change your Google or iCloud password because she could have those from the previous spy installs. If it still is suspicious, remove the battery on your phone before you go to bed and hide it. Or hide your phone somewhere different each night while you are sleeping.

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See more questions like this: Can You recommend a few free app for makiware and listen in to my device I queried it all the systems saying majorly affected how to remove kit?

My iPhone 4S battery drains really quickly & takes forever to charge. It goes from 50% to 0% in a blink, how can I find out if I am being spied on?

Battery draining real quickly, taking forever to charge. Previously echo and strange noises when on calls. Mostly use for texts, email, Facebook. Unexplained high data usage. Could someone be spying on me and how do I find out, stop them and identify who it is, please?

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I want to know for sure if, and who is hacking me, is there a safe way to see if this phone and all of the contents are safe, how can I get some real help?

A lot of strange things have been going on with my phone. One night out of the blue it just started dialing my contacts randomly, then a lot of popup ADs started running across my screen, sometimes it would just shut down, I really need some help. I am not sure if I can tell you any more than I have, I am scared. I have tried: Nothing I tried, cleaning out my phone, but it’s just not working. I think it was caused by: A paranoid friend or friends, I am not certain, but I did ask him to do a few things!

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This sounds more like you have a virus. Hard reset your device and then reinstall the proper OS for it.

See more questions like this: My phone nosies on people on the phone with man please help me to get the people who are in the back ground even if the phone is off?

I think that someone is watching my YouTube History?

Last night I was watching my movies and some videos, and next morning my friend glanced me with different eyes like Anger. So I discovered that she knows what I was watching last night, even though I deleted the History. What is the matter and how can I solve these problems. Otherwise, it can cause a big problem for me. I have tried: I never tried so much. I installed some spyware apps, but they show no response. I think it was caused by: I think someone is spying on my phone, but I don’t know too much about it!

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If she has your Google Account credentials, she can see your YouTube history. Also, if you have logged into YouTube on a shared PC, she can also see your history from there.

My problem is I’m sending messages to the USA but the time of last checked is Indian time when it could be a difference in timing?

Hi, my problem is that when I’m sending messages to the USA but when they check it shows Indian time when I check it shows the Indian time when there is the difference in time zone. So I want to know if someone else is spying, as there will be timing difference. I have tried: I have not tried anything, the first thing to find out my problem seeking your help. I think it was caused by: I do not know, so I’m seeking help from you, so it is possible is spying Check the Date and Time settings of your device. They could be set wrong including the Region. If you purchased the phone online, it could also have the wrong region OS.

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I’m considered that my dad may be spying on me. But I’m afraid maybe I’m thinking too much?

OK, so I write smuts. When I was writing one of my works, I saw my dad with a similar screen with me. I wasn’t wearing my glasses because I’m short-sighted. I wasn’t sure, but the colors were quite similar.

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I already found the apk’s & know who it is. If I report them?

How many laws on average could they both be charged with? I know that they have broken laws with Sprint, Charter WiFi, Amazon, for it was multiple apks, spoofing, keylogging, remote access and remote viewing. Plus used a phone in my home for mirroring and changed the IMEI on that phone. Plus my privacy rights. I found the spy apks. And have for days fought for control of my phone since they also used Super User controls in real time. Also, I know my hackers/spies. I have tried: Googling, for optimal info, and removing, blocking, and deterring said spies. Also sent messages telling them to stop. For I was aware and would contact law enforcement. This did NOT phase them. I think it was caused by: I suppose not caring that it is an intrusion of the worst kind, curiosity, and one of them installs Charter WiFi and cable. And obviously boundaries are not something they respect I’ve deduced.

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On an LG Escape 2, if my audio is changing, OK Google keeps opening, and I keep getting weird texts from the same person, am I hacked or being hacked?

Some of it may be related to having gotten a new headset with a built in microphone and audio adapter, but I turned off the microphone and the audio adjuster affects the microphone, not the phone itself. It also seems to happen maybe when I bump into the audio adjuster. But the kicker here is that I keep getting weird texts and phone calls from the same person, saying “there are charges against me” and stuff like that. What do I do for each thing? This involves and LG Escape 2, audio-based glitches (volume changing automatically, etc.), and repetitive messages from an unknown person. I have tried: Not bumping into the audio adapter and deleting any phone calls by the person. I think it was caused by: The audio problems may be the headphones (They are technically Xbox headphones that are compatible with computers and phones), but I don’t know about the caller.

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Do type in the codes in my dialer and hit send? I need to know how use codes?

I think my friends I phone is being tracked by an ex. I put in codes hit send and I get call cannot be sent as dialed.

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My location icon keeps turning on by itself. Also stuff about PC and mtp?

Think ex or current girlfriend hacked this new phone and the last 2. Getting tired of buying new ones and dealing with vendictive people. The settings look different and I can’t uncheck or check certain ones because they’re greyed out. I have tried: Throwing phones away and getting new Gmail accounts. I think it was caused by: Spy app or hacked but would like to know how bc I keep changing Gmail account with new phone. It’s like they are putting it on my phone through call or text somehow

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

HAVE you ever been talking about a pair of trainers or holiday destination, and then suddenly seen an advert for that precise thing pop up on social media?

Us too. As incredible as it sounds, it might be because our phones are secretly spying on us.

9 The Sun Online investigates whether our phones are listening in to our daily activities

It’s a question I’ve been asking for a while after seeing adverts for things I’ve been talking about – but not searching – popping up on my phone.

While we are all used to targeted ads – seeing pictures of things we’ve just searched for appearing in ad spaces on the websites we visit after – many people think advertisers and phone companies are taking this one step further.

If voice recognition apps like Siri and Bixby are always listening for commands, is it really beyond the realm of possibility that they are also sending ads our way based on what we’re talking about?

While tech giants including Facebook and Apple vehemently deny they are using phones to listen into customers’ conversations and then sell the data onto advertisers, I wasn’t so sure I believed them.

9 The Department of Health were on my radar following a conversation about social work

So I decided to investigate and run a scientific experiment to find out why I was getting these ads, and prove my theory one way or another.

I pulled together a list of topics – businesscards, spandex, vegan food – stuff I had never Googled before, and began talking about them in earshot of my phone.

I made sure my phone’s microphone was turned on in all my apps, and kept using social media- like Facebook and Instagram – in exactly the same way.

9 With private conversations turning into tailored ads, there’s plenty of reason to suspect our devicesCredit: Max Molyneux

‘It was never ending’

Within days I was inundated with ads related to these key words.

Firstly, I got an advert offering 50 per cent off my first purchase of business cards – something I’d never thought about or searched for before but had talked about with a friend, with my phone on the coffee table next to us.

While I happily eat meat, I also told my friend I had plans to cook up some healthy vegan dishes using a new cookbook instead.

Sure enough, I was subjected to an advert for healthy vegan meal plans later that day.

9 Adverts starting cropping up for many different topics I’d only spoken about verballyCredit: Max Molyneux

The same pattern followed with all of the things I spoke about.

I had a conversation with my husband about getting an armchair while my phone was next to me on the sofa – and I was inundated with furniture ads.

Was it a coincidence, or was my phone actually listening to my conversations and reporting back? I felt like I was being spied on.

9 Despite discussing armchairs in private, I still noticed my phone seemed to know

Paranoia, or a disturbing reality?

Next, I started by talking about university courses, and cheap student accommodation to my younger sister while my phone was on the kitchen counter next to us.

Since graduating from Cardiff University in 2010, I’ve never expressed a desire to do a second degree, but instantly I got adverts for open days at a London university inviting me to “learn more about our degrees”.

Later, my freaked-out sister messaged me a screenshot of an advert she’d got on her own social media – for student housing.

When I suggested to a mate over coffee that I wanted to dye my hair blonde while my phone was on the table between us, a hair dye ad helpfully popped up two hours later.

A discussion with a friend who is getting married about how unflattering flesh-coloured shaping underwear is then led to an ad trying to sell me “shape-wear I’ll actually want to wear” later that day.

I even received a sponsored advert from the Department of Health, advertising social care jobs after speaking to my friend’s mum about her role as a social worker – a profession I have never shown an interest in.

9 This popped up after a discussion on university courses 9 I was advertised this hair dye after talking about going blonde, something I’d never mentioned before

‘Our phones can listen to us’

While my experiment might not provide ‘concrete proof’ that our phones are listening to us, I am convinced – and so are the experts.

“Our phones are meant to only record when we issue the right trigger word, like ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Okay Google’, but because it needs to listen for these commands, it always has an ear open,” says Dr Peter Henway, a senior security consultant for cyber-security firm Asterix.

Cyber expert and DefenceWorks founder Edward Whittingham is even more convinced.

“I’m not surprised that people are receiving targeted ads based on their conversations – it’s happened to me too,” he says.

“There’s no question as to whether or not our phones can listen to us, but the million-dollar question is are they? The answer – we don’t know.

9 Edward Whittingham, a former police officer, admits the targeted ads have happened to him too

“Only a few weeks ago I was talking to my wife about the parking on our road and when I accessed Facebook the following morning I saw an advertisement to rent car spaces out in the local area- including the exact name of the town in which I live.

“Imagine how much more valuable advertising is to a company selling a product when they know, with a fair amount of accuracy, that you’re actively interested in that product?

“There lies the incentive and motivation for listening to our conversations.

“There are some arguments to say that seeing these adds could be based around a probability phenomenon – you might think that you are being listened to because the adverts are so accurate, but we have to also remember the amount of data that these organisations hold about us that can help them.”

How to stop your phone listening to you

Worried about your privacy and want to take precautions? Security expert and Defenceworks.com founder Edward Whittingham suggests examining your apps.

He says: “A good starting point would be to review the permissions you have on your mobile devices.

“Check what permissions each of the apps on your device has – you might be surprised at just how many have or request access to your microphone, camera or even phone contacts, when there’s no obvious or tangible reason as to why they’d need it.

“Obviously, turning off the permissions for the microphone for all but essential apps is a great place to look first.”

  • If you’re concerned and have an iPhone, you can also switch off Siri as a precaution.
  • Open up your settings, then ‘Siri and search’ and switch off the ‘allow Siri when locked’ option.
  • You can also either delete your social media apps from your phone, or switch off the microphone in each one, which can be done in ‘settings’.
  • If you have an Android, you can go to settings and turn off the microphone, and disable ‘OK Google’.

Eavesdropping on ‘private’ messages

It’s not just public social media sites that I’m suspicious about either.

Previously, I’ve questioned if Whatsapp – who insist messages are encrypted and are private – are also monitoring data too.

During a ‘private’ Whatsapp text conversation, my friend told me about a clothing brand she really liked called Nobody’s Child, and sent me a screenshot of a red jumpsuit she’d just bought.

“Ooh yeah, very nice – never heard of the brand,” I replied, making a mental note to have a look when I got a second.

9 Clothing brands and jewellers began targeting me after I chatted with girl friends

However, before I had the chance to, I was confronted with an advert on Facebook for the very same clothing brand.

Just a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Not sure? Try it for yourselves

It might sound far-fetched, but Edward recommends trying out the experiment at home for yourself.

He says: “If readers aren’t sure, I’d encourage them to try it for themselves – pick an obscure topic that you’ve never searched for you on your device and start talking about it in earshot of your phone.

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Facebook was contacted for comment, and while denying the action, did not provide an official response, stating that this investigation “wasn’t newsworthy”.

Amazon, Samsung, Huawei and Sony failed to comment.

But whether they deny it or not, I’m now 100 per cent convinced my phone has been listening to me.

Your iPhone Is Spying On You — Here’s How To Stop It

Apple CEO Tim Cook

ASSOCIATED PRESS

So much for that “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” advertising campaign from Apple. I cannot help but note the irony that, in reality, apps are monitoring your every move and grabbing data to help with advertising campaigns. Not that this should come as any great surprise; if you aren’t paying for an app then you are the product. However, the sheer number of apps involved, the number of trackers used per app and both the volume and frequency of the data collection is cause for concern.

What is going on?

When the Wall Street Journal investigated the world of iPhone privacy controls it discovered that, frankly, those controls are about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The WSJ reporters looked at some 80 iOS apps, all recommended in the App Store as being “Apps We Love.” What they found was all bar one were using third-party trackers to collect data about the user. Most were using more than one tracker, the average being four per app.

What data is being collected?

What data is being collected by iOS apps? Would it surprise you to discover that as well as details of your device such as the model, name and phone number these trackers can grab your email address, the IP address that is allocated to your internet connection and even your precise location at any given time? Everything from music streaming and weather apps, through to news and storage apps are doing it. Maybe Apple should change the advertising slogan to “invading your privacy—there’s an app for that.”

Of course, it isn’t just iOS apps that do this. Android apps are just as bad. However, that doesn’t mean that Apple gets a free ride. Especially in light of that “what happens on your iPhone…” campaign. Rumors are rife that Apple CEO, Tim Cook, will try and dampen the flames with an announcement tomorrow (June 3) regarding limiting these trackers when it comes to apps in the App Store “Kids” section. More than one information security and privacy expert have already told me, in off the record conversations, that they think this is unlikely to be workable.

What can you do to stop the spying?

So what can you do to stop the tracking yourself? Good question, to which the answer is nothing. If the question had been what you can do to limit the tracking problem, then things are somewhat more positive. Just don’t expect to be able to stop all the spying, because that isn’t going to be doable I’m afraid. You can start by heading to the Settings > Privacy > Advertising section on your iPhone and enabling the Limit Ad Tracking function. This will prevent advertisers from getting usage statistics including search history data. It will also mean you’ll see random adverts rather than targeted ones, but to be honest most of the “targeted” ads I see on any platform are pretty random anyway. While you are in the privacy settings, you may as well turn off location services for apps that you don’t want to be tracking your location.

I would also suggest disabling the Background App Refresh function which can be found in Settings > General for those apps that really don’t need it. This is meant to enable those apps that do need to perform update and content checks to do so while you are not actively using them and so provide you with notifications and the like. I’d recommend not taking the nuclear option with this one and take some care as to which apps you disable it for. There’s always going to be a balance required between usability and privacy at the end of the day. And during the night, for that matter, as the function is used by some apps to spy on you while you sleep.

The nuclear option

If you want to frustrate the collectors of this data as much as possible, there are other more drastic measures you can take. The obvious one is to uninstall all the apps that are not 100% essential to you. Such a cull, on a regular basis, is no bad thing anyway if only on memory and storage usage grounds. You can switch such things as Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth off when you don’t need them. Although “no such thing as a free lunch” applies as much to apps as it does anything, the truth is that even expensive app dining won’t guarantee you a tracking-free experience. Most paid-for versions of apps also collect this data, even if they are not actively serving you with advertising.

COMMENT:

Are our phones listening to us? Or am I just paranoid?

I was discussing with my husband at lunch the other day, how we needed a new duvet for our bed.

It’s been so long since we purchased one, we briefly discussed where would be best to buy one and what type would be best. So far, sooooooo boring, I know. But not according to my phone.

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It seems my phone was not only listening in, but it was also trying to do something about it. A few hours after our discussion (which to be frank only lasted a couple of minutes before we’d moved on), my Instagram feed started popping up with ads for bedding, blankets and – you guessed it – duvets.

Equally creepy is that my phone was not even in use while we’d been talking earlier, it’d been sitting in my pocket, and then after I’d taken a call from one of the kids, it sat on the table.

So how did it suddenly know to target me with bedding ads? I raised this on my Instagram and was bombarded with responses from people all sharing similar stories.

People who’d talked about a product and then boom – there it was advertised.
People who’d shared views on a movie even and then been spammed with similar movie reviews on the very same film.

People who’d mentioned a musical, then songs from that very musical started popping up on their Spotify playlist. Spooky.

So my experience is nothing new, but when Facebook was tackled on this very thing, they denied it. Well they would. Facebook called it a conspiracy theory and urban myth.

But it can poo-poo it all it wants, I know what I saw – multiple ads for bedding, popping up hours after I talked about bedding.

How do you explain how specific these ads were? And if you can’t, then can we really dismiss it as urban myth?

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Facebook says there are other ways our tech can track our thoughts: web searches, Google entries, regularly visited sites.

But I had not Google searched duvets or looked up bedding shops. I had not emailed anyone about bedding – I had not ever raised it, aside from verbally and briefly that day over lunch.

So what gives?

One Instagram user messaged me to delete the Facebook app from my phone, or log in and out regularly. She claimed it often happens to her too.

So am I paranoid? Or is my phone really more interested in my duvet chat than my husband is?

Are our tech devices really as innocent as they look? Or are they actually spying on us?

Smartphones, and other smart devices, have had their fair share of bad press recently, with claims they are capable of monitoring calls and even snooping on our face-to-face conversations.

Why would anyone want to listen in as you chat about what you watched on TV last night or discuss what to cook for dinner? Just as information about our internet searches or the websites we visit can be used to target us with online ads, the theory goes that keywords collected from our conversations could also be passed on to advertisers.

Related Story

The GHI investigates

So, could our smartphones be spying on us? We decided to put this theory to the test. Our researcher set up two new smartphones (one iPhone and one Google Android) and added the Google, Facebook and Instagram apps, giving them access to the microphones on the phones (access isn’t allowed by default but if you post a Facebook Live story or an Instagram story you have to grant the microphone access). Over the course of two weeks, we made several mentions within ‘earshot’ of the phones of a make-up brand, a kitchen appliance and a holiday destination we’d never searched for online.

Our verdict? In this instance, there was no evidence that these three apps were monitoring conversations for keywords, and using this information to serve up targeted ads. In fact, the only adverts we did see were based around items we’d been searching for online.

Westend61Getty Images

Protect your personal information

One study by researchers in the US showed that some Android smartphone apps did collect information from users. But instead of accessing the phone’s microphone to eavesdrop on conversations, the apps were much more interested in collecting information about what appeared on the phone’s screen. Some of the apps in the study collected photos from the user’s phone or used the phone’s camera to record video clips of screen activity. This showed what the user of the phone bought or searched for online, and even recorded their postcode.

GHI TIP: Turn off Ad Personalisation in your Google Account Settings, so your online activity and information shared with Google and the apps you use your Google account to sign-in with, are not used to personalise adverts.

Related Story

Giving apps permission

Smartphone users in the UK have an average of between 60 and 90 apps on their phones, which means there’s potentially quite a lot of information that’s being gathered about each of us. Whether or not you’re bothered by the thought that the apps on your smartphone are collecting information about you, it’s good practice to check what access you’ve granted to the apps you’ve already installed.

Most apps will ask for personal information such as your name and email address, and many need access to certain features on your phone to do what they are designed to do. A weather app, for example, will need to know your location. A photo-editing app may need access to your phone’s camera. Some, though, may ask to tap into your calendar, your photos, or even your calls and contacts when they don’t really need to. Find out exactly what each app on your phone has access to in the phone’s Settings menu.

Jamie GrillGetty Images

On an iPhone, go to Settings, select Privacy, then tap on one of your phone’s features in the list that appears – the Camera, for instance. You’ll then see a list of the apps that have requested access to this feature. Use the slider buttons to select which ones can have access and which ones can’t. On an Android device, choose Apps, Permissions and again select the specific feature and use the slider to revoke access.

And next time you want to download an app, check its privacy policy first. This should tell you what data the app will collect about you, how the company that makes the app will store that information and who it will be shared with. If you don’t like what you read, or if an app doesn’t have a privacy policy, it’s best avoided.

We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.

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Gary Explains: Is your smartphone spying on you?

Digital privacy is a hot topic. We have moved into an era where almost everyone carries a connected device. Everyone has a camera. Many of our daily activities — from riding the bus to accessing our bank accounts — are done online. The question arises, “who is keeping track of all that data?”

Some of the world’s biggest tech companies are under scrutiny about how they use our data. What does Google know about you? Is Facebook transparent about how it handles your data? Is Huawei spying on us?

To try to answer some of these questions, I created a special Wi-Fi network which let me capture every packet of data being sent from a smartphone out to the Internet. I wanted to see if any of my devices were secretly sending data to remote servers without my knowledge. Is my phone spying on me?

Setup

To capture all the data flowing back and forth from my smartphone I needed a private network, one where I am the boss, where I am root, where I am admin. Once I have full control of the network, I can monitor everything that goes in and out of the network. To do this I set up a Raspberry Pi as a Wi-Fi access point. I imaginatively called it PiNet. Next, I connected the smartphone under test to PiNet and disabled mobile data (to be double sure I am getting all the traffic). At this point, the smartphone was connected to the Raspberry Pi but nothing else. The next step is to configure the Pi to forward all traffic it gets out to the Internet. This is why the Pi is such a great device, as many models have both Wi-Fi and Ethernet on board. I connected the Ethernet to my router and now everything that the smartphone sends and receives has to flow through the Raspberry Pi.

There are lots of network analysis tools out there and one of the most popular is WireShark. It enables real-time capture and processing of every data packet flying across a network. With my Pi between my smartphones and the Internet, I used WireShark to capture all the data. Once captured, I could analyze it at my leisure. The advantage of the “capture now, ask questions later” method is I can leave the setup running overnight and see what secrets my smartphone is revealing in the middle of the night!

I tested four devices:

  • Huawei Mate 8
  • Pixel 3 XL
  • OnePlus 6T
  • Galaxy Note 9

What I saw

The first thing I noticed was our smartphones talk to Google a lot. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me — the entire Android ecosystem is built around Google’s services — but it was interesting to see how when I woke a device from sleep, it scurries off and checks your Gmail and the current network time (via NTP) and a whole bunch of other things. I was also surprised by how many domain names Google owns. I was expecting all the servers to be something.whatever.google.com, but Google has domains with names like 1e100.net (which I guess is a reference to a Googolplex), gstatic.com, crashlytics.com, and so on.

I checked and verified every domain and every IP address the test devices contacted to be sure I knew who my smartphone was talking to.

Besides talking to Google, our smartphones seem quite carefree social butterflies and have a wide circle of friends. These, of course, are directly proportional to how many apps you have installed. If you have WhatsApp and Twitter installed, guess what, your device contacts WhatsApp’s and Twitter’s servers on a regular basis!

Did I see any nefarious connections to servers in China, Russia, or North Korea? No.

Ads

Something your smartphone often does is connect to Content Delivery Networks to get ads. Again, which networks it connects to, and how many, will depend on the apps you install. Most advertising-supported apps will use libraries provided by the ad network, which means the app developer has little or no knowledge of how the ads are actually served or what data gets sent to the ad network. The most common ad providers I saw were Doubleclick and Akamai.

In terms of privacy, these ad libraries can be a controversial topic, because an app developer is basically trusting the platform to do the right thing with the data and only send what is strictly needed to serve the ads. We have all seen how trustworthy ad platforms are during our daily use of the web. Pop-ups, pop-unders, auto-playing videos, inappropriate adverts, ads that take over the whole screen — the list goes on. If ads weren’t so intrusive, there would never be ad blockers.

Amazon AWS

I saw a fair bit of network activity related to Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). As a major cloud server provider, Amazon is often the logical choice for app developers who need databases and other processing abilities on a server, but don’t want to maintain their own physical servers.

Overall, connections to AWS should be considered innocuous. They’re there to provide the services you asked for. However, it highlights the open nature of connected devices. Once you install an app there is potential it can send any and all of the data it has collected to a miscreant, even via a reputable service provider like Amazon. Android guards against this in several ways, including by enforcing permissions on apps, and with services like Play Protect. This is why side-loading apps can be very dangerous.

OK, Google

Since PiNet allowed me to capture every network packet, I was keen to check to see if Google was secretly spying on me by activating the microphone on my Pixel 3 XL and sending the data to Google. When you activate Voice Match on the Pixel 3 XL, it will listen permanently for the keyphrases “OK Google” or “Hey Google.” Listening permanently sounds dangerous to me. As any politician will tell you, an open mic is a hazard to be avoided at all costs!

The device is meant to listen locally for the keyphrase, without connecting to the internet. If the keyphrase isn’t heard, nothing happens. Once the keyphrase is detected, the device will send a snippet to Google’s servers to double-check if it was a false positive. If everything checks out, the device sends audio to Google in real-time until either a command is understood, or the device times out.

That is what I saw.

There is no network traffic at all, even when I talked directly at the phone. The moment I said”Hey Google” a real-time stream of network traffic was sent to Google, until the interaction stopped. I tried tricking the Pixel 3 XL with slight variations of the keyphrase like “Pray Google” or “Hey Goggle.” Once I managed to get it to send a snippet to Google for further validation, but the device didn’t get confirmation and so Assistant didn’t activate.

What does Google know about me?

Google offers a service called Takeout which allows you to download all your data from Google, ostensibly so you can migrate your data to other services. However, it is also a good way to see what data Google has on you. If you try to download everything the resulting archive can be huge (maybe more than 50GB), but that will include all your photos, all your video clips, every file you have saved on Google Drive, everything you uploaded to YouTube, all your emails, and so on. As a way to check privacy, I don’t need to see which photos Google has, I know that already. Likewise, I know what emails I have, what files I have on Google Drive, and so on. However, if I exclude those bulky media items from the download and concentrate on activity and metadata, the download can be quite small.

I downloaded my Takeout recently and had a poke around to see what Google knows about me. The data arrives as one or more .zip files containing folders for each of the different areas including Chrome, Google Pay, Google Play Music, My Activity, Purchases, Task, and so on.

Diving into each folder shows what Google knows about you in that area. For example, there is a copy of my Chrome bookmarks and a copy of the Playlists I created on Google Play Music. At first, there was nothing surprising. I expected a list of my Reminders, since I created them using Google Assistant, so Google should have a copy of them. But there were one or two surprises, even for someone as “tech savvy” as me.

The first was a folder of MP3 recordings of everything I ever said to my Google Home mini. There was also an HTML file with a transcript of all those commands. To clarify, these are commands I gave the Google Assistant after it was activated with “Hey Google.” To be honest I didn’t expect Google to keep an MP3 file of all my commands. OK, I get that there is some engineering value in being able to check the quality of Assistant, but I don’t think Google needs to keep these audio files. It’s a bit much.

There was also a list of all the article I have ever read on Google News, a record of every time I played Solitaire, and all the searches I have made on Google Play Music going back almost five years!

It turns out Google processes all your email messages looking for purchases and creates a record of them.

The one that really shocked me was in the Purchases folder. Here Google had a record of everything I have ever purchased online. The oldest item was from 2010, when I purchased some airplane tickets. The point here is that I didn’t buy these tickets, or any of the items, via Google. I have purchase records for items from Amazon, eBay, and iTunes. There are even records of birthday cards I bought.

Digging deeper I started to find purchases I didn’t make! After some head scratching it turns out that these records are the results of Google processing my email messages and guessing at purchases I have made. You have probably seen this especially with regards to flights. If you open an email from an airline, Gmail helpfully puts some summary information about your flight in a special tab at the top of the message.

It turns out Google processes all your email messages looking for purchases and creates a record of them. When someone forwards you an email about something they have purchased, Google can even inadvertently parse it as a purchase you have made!

What about Facebook, Twitter, and others?

Social media and privacy are in some ways contradictory. As Harold Finch said in the TV show Person of Interest about social media, “The government had been trying to figure it out for years. Turns out most people were happy to volunteer it.” With social media, we willingly post information including birthdays, names, friends, colleagues, photos, interests, wish lists, and aspirations. Then, having published all that information, we are shocked when it is used in ways we didn’t intend. As another famous character said about a gambling hall he frequented, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

All the big social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have privacy policies and they are fairly broad in what they cover. Here is a snippet from Twitter’s policy:

“In addition to information you share with us, we use your Tweets, content you’ve read, Liked, or Retweeted, and other information to determine what topics you’re interested in, your age, the languages you speak, and other signals to show you more relevant content.”

So, is your device connecting to Twitter and allowing Twitter to determine things like your age, the language you speak, and what things interest you? Sure.

It profiles you — and you let it do that.

Here is the key question: if I didn’t have a smartphone, would that stop entities from spying on me if they wanted to?

Potential vs Actual

The biggest problem with connected devices and online entities is not what they are doing, but what they could do. I used the phrase “entities” intentionally because the dangers around mass surveillance, spying and profiling are not just about Google or Facebook. Ignoring genuine software mistakes (bugs) as well as the standard business models of big online companies, it is fairly safe to say Google isn’t spying on you. Neither is Facebook. Neither is the government. That doesn’t mean they can’t — or won’t.

Is some hacker or government spy somewhere activating the mic on your phone to listen to you? No, but they could. As we saw recently with the events surrounding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, entities can trick you into installing an app that spies on you. Companies like Zerodium sell zero-day vulnerabilities to governments, which could allow malicious apps (like Pegasus) to be installed on your device without you knowing.

Did I see any such activity with my devices? No, but I’m not a likely target for such surveillance and skullduggery. It could still happen to someone else.

Here is the key question: if I didn’t have a smartphone, would that stop entities from spying on me if they wanted to?

Before the launch of smartphones, every major government in the world was already involved in spying and surveillance. World War II was probably won by breaking of Enigma code and gaining access to the intelligence it hid. Smartphones aren’t to blame, but now there is a larger attack surface — in other words, there are more ways to spy on you.

Wrap-up

Following my testing, I am confident none of the devices I used are doing anything unusual or malevolent. However, the issue of privacy is larger than just a device which isn’t being intentionally malicious. The business practices of companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are highly debatable and they often seem to push the boundaries of privacy.

As for spying, there’s no white van parked outside my house watching my movements and pointing a directional microphone at my windows. I just checked. Nobody’s hacking my phone. That doesn’t mean they can’t.

Why phones that secretly listen to us are a myth

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionWhat is encryption?

They then looked for ads related to pet food on each platform and webpage they subsequently visited. They also analysed the battery usage and data consumption on the phones during the test phase.

They repeated the experiment at the same time for three days, and noted no relevant pet food adverts on the “audio room” phones and no significant spike in data or battery usage.

The activity seen on phones in the “audio room” and the silent rooms were similar. They did record data being transferred from the devices – but it was at low levels and nowhere near the quantity seen when virtual assistants like Siri or Hey Google are active.

James Mack, systems engineer at Wandera, said: “We observed that the data from our tests is much lower than the virtual assistant data over the 30-minute time period, which suggests that the constant recording of conversations and uploading to the cloud is not happening on any of these tested apps.

“If it was, we’d expect data usage to be as high as the virtual assistants’ data consumption,” Mr Mack said.

For years tech giants have batted away suggestions that they are using the microphones in our mobiles to spy.

Last year, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg was asked if this was happening as part of his testimony before the US Senate to which he flatly denied it.

However, as distrust in tech giants has grown, many users still feel like it’s happening to them.

Interestingly, the study found that most of the Android phone apps seem to consume significantly more data in the silent rooms with many iOS apps using more in the audio-filled rooms. Analysts say they are unsure why this is the case but have determined to carry on researching the issue.

Regardless, the company co-founder and chief executive Eldar Tuvey is confident that the overall results show that any secret transfer of significant data is not happening.

“I would put my name to the research and say that we found no evidence at all this was happening on the platforms we tested. It might be happening in a way we don’t know about – but I would say it’s highly unlikely,” Mr Tuvey said.

The results won’t surprise those in the information security industry who’ve known for years that the truth is that tech giants know so much about us that they don’t actually need to listen to our conversations to serve us targeted adverts.

The reality is that advertisers have sophisticated ways of profiling users.

Location data, browsing history and tracking pixels, for example all provide enough information to predict what you might be thinking about buying.

Image copyright Press Association Image caption The reality is that advertisers have sophisticated ways of profiling users

They can also link you up to friends via social media information and guess that you might be interested in the things they are searching for.

These techniques are constantly improving and evolving, too.

Mobile advertising and security expert Soteris Demetriou, from Imperial College London, said: “The adverts that you see are a result of huge amounts of data that the companies have about you. They share a vast amount of information across advertising networks powered by machine-learning algorithms that are extremely powerful.

“They now have the ability to effectively know what you could be interested in before even you do,” Dr Demetriou said.

There are of course instances where some apps have been found to record user activity for advertising purposes.

Last June, researchers at Northeastern University in the US state of Massachusetts tested 17,000 mobile apps from various Android app stores around the world.

They found no evidence of listening – but they did discover some relatively small applications were sending screenshots and even videos of user phone activities to third parties. Although this was done for development purposes and not for advertising.

It’s also accepted that nation-state groups routinely attack the mobile devices of high-level targets for espionage purposes.

In May, WhatsApp admitted that hackers had managed to remotely install surveillance software onto devices through its app.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, said the attack targeted a “select number” of users and was orchestrated by “an advanced cyber-actor”. The security flaw has since been fixed.