Does your mobile listen to private conversations or is it paranoia? Do not panic! There are no studies that verify this type of practice. Although some users on social networks – perhaps yourself too, or others known – have experienced sequences that could prove it. Like when you talk about an electronic product or a trip that you will go to in a certain time. Later you enter a mobile application and see it announced in the timeline. Alarms go off!
Some experts warn that yes, mobile applications can listen to our private conversations and recommend users to be aware of permissions they grant, the typical small print that everyone accepts without reading. The known as the largest internet lie, the one that says “I have read and accept the terms and conditions”. And whoever says no, his nose may grow like Pinocchio. In the Network we sign contracts of which we do not know details due to laziness, something that we would never do with the signing of a mortgage.
The doubts arise after this week it generated controversy again after discovering that a kitchen robot included a hidden microphone that its users were not informed about, as well as the fine from the Data Protection Agency to LaLiga for the app that uses the mobile microphone to ‘hunt’ bars with ‘pirate’ football.
In whose hands is our privacy?
The UOC Professor of Computer, Multimedia and Telecommunication StudiesCarles Garrigues He says that “mobiles can listen to us through the microphone, they can record videos, take screenshots or use GPS to find out about us.” If a mobile application wanted to listen to the private conversations of its users in order to offer them personalized advertising, it would be necessary to run a speech recognition algorithm. “Through the microphone the entire conversation would be recorded, which could later be sent to the company’s servers, and later, thanks to voice recognition, Keywords could be identified and these could be associated with specific products or advertisers. » However, Garrigues assures that it is a “complex” procedure, since, although this practice is “technically possible”, it is “very risky”. “It is not difficult to see if an application makes unusual use of the network or the processor, which could betray the company behind it,” he explains.
However, Garrigues confirms that this phenomenon can only take place if «the user has previously granted permissions to the application to use the microphone ». The same is defended by the UOC professor of Law and Political Science StudiesMiquel Peguera, which ensures that «listening to private conversations for the creation of profiles and for the presentation of personalized advertising requires in any case the consent of the person concerned, who should previously have clear and complete information on this type of treatment of their data ». Still, Peguera warns that he would always be “a very problematic personal data processingsince you listen to them too would capture the voice of third parties that they would neither have been informed nor could they have given their consent ».
What it is easier to happen, adds Garrigues, is that after doing internet searches as users of a Google account“Advertisements related to the products we have searched for appear on the computer or on any other device on which we are identified with the same user.”
Ads, increasingly personalized
Online advertising is increasingly based on audience segmentation through profiles created from our behavior, which take into account both the activity of a user on the internet, which can be tracked in various ways, and their offline behavior. “The elaboration of profiles of this type involves the processing of personal data, so this process must meet all the requirements in relation to data protection,” says Peguera.
The UOC professor of Economics and Business StudiesNeus Soler consider it to be a marketing strategy “Very reckless” as it is used at a time when “people are becoming very aware of data protection”. “Offering advertising based on a conversation that is understood as private, and not based on the behavior of the user on the network – which would be an explicit statement – can decrease the trust that the user places in an application and create rejection in whoever advertises, ”says the professor, who is also an expert in digital marketing.
Soler says that we are faced with the extension of a concept that began to be practiced on web pages and that now reaches mobile applications: the segmented advertising based on intelligent recommendation systems. This type of advertising has many negative aspects for users, since “they lose the privacy of their data, thus becoming a product for brands, which become more influential,” explains this teacher.
According to a Ditrendia report, during 2017 58% of the investment in online marketing in the world was already destined for mobile devices, and it is expected that this year it will grow to 62%, which will represent the 26% of total advertising investment. The digital marketing expert ensures that we will see more and more advertising of this type on our devices. “The objective is to include advertising in any space where it can have an effect. These spaces are the places where people gather and to which they dedicate more time, such as social networks and mobile applications, as WhatsApp has recently done », Soler assures.
What steps can users take?
Garrigues assures that «applications cannot access or use the users microphone if they have not previously accepted it». Once the application has permission to use the microphone, “it is very difficult to know if it is used at a certain time,” says the teacher.
Given this, experts recommend the user to find out if they have given permission to the application so that it has access to the microphone. “The most important thing is that users are attentive to the permissions they grant to the applications they have installed on their mobiles,” concludes Garrigues.
Google knows more about our lives than anyone
The tech giant Google has more data than anyone and a study found a few months ago the mass espionage of Android mobile users. If it was already undeniable that smartphones moved in the red transparency line in terms of privacy, thanks to sophisticated tracking modes in the System pre-installed software, make use of consumer information and habits without them knowing For commercial purposes.
The investigation – carried out by two Spanish academics of the Carlos III University of Madrid and by the IMDEA Networks Institute – is included in the article ‘An Analysis of Pre-installed Android Software’ that was published by the Spanish Agency for Data Protection.
The analysis of apps installed in thousands of terminals of 214 brands revealed the existence of a “complex system developers and commercial agreements in which pre-installed apps have privileged permissions and without the possibility that an average user can uninstall them».
The study includes more than 82,000 applications pre-installed on more than 1,700 devices with Android operating system, and has identified more than 1200 companies that make intensive use of this information with a total of 11,000 libraries or data sets destined mostly to advertising and online monitoring. With this serial software, there is already enough data to know the user’s activity, either in the place where it is located, what it is downloaded or what multimedia files it has.
The analysis of the behavior of 50% of the identified apps reveals that «a significant fraction of them present Potentially malicious or unwanted behaviorsuch as malware samples, generic Trojans, or pre-installed software that would facilitate fraudulent practices. “
Regarding other results of the investigation, the AEPD has pointed out that, apart from the standard permissions defined in Android and under user control, the researchers have identified “more than 4,845 proprietary or personalized permissions by those involved in the manufacture of the terminals” . “This type of permission allows apps published on Google Play to circumvent the Android permission model to access user data without requiring their consent when installing a new app,” the study states.