Your phones are listening to you, and tracking you, like, all the time

Your phones are listening to you, and tracking you, like, all the time
Have you noticed when ads in your Instagram and Facebook feeds, or website ones in general, start showing tons of t-shirts or electric bikes all of a sudden? Well, I searched a few things online, you say to yourself, and ad cookies did their usual tracking thing, but I'm still looking for this stuff, so I don't mind being served a hidden gem of a deal.

Well, what if you never searched for the things you see in your Facebook ads, and they still pop up right after you had a passionate conversation about that trip to Japan you never did? That's exactly what happened to Vice's Sam Nichols, and it rang a bell. After discussing a much-desired trip to Tokyo in a pub, ads for cheap flights to Japan started popping up in his Facebook sponsored posts. He then went on a quest to deliberately talk about shirts, or sneakers, or university courses around his iPhone, and, sure enough, the sponsored ads started changing with those exact same topics.

Security researchers say that there is nothing abnormal about the fact that phones are always listening. Since they are on alert to hear "OK Google," or "Hey Siri," certain trigger words can be fed in encrypted form to apps that have permission to use them, like Facebook, for instance. The process is rather murky, but it's not that your data is sold directly to advertisers, they just find another way to obtain targeting info. According to Dr. Peter Hannay, a senior security consultant for cybersecurity firm Asterisk:

Another thing to note is that your handset may be tracking your location by default, too, making a more complete advertising picture for the initiated. On iPhones, for example, a feature called Significant Locations, "allows your iPhone to learn places significant to you in order to provide useful location-related information in Maps, Calendar, Photos, and more," says Apple, adding the "Significant Locations are encrypted and cannot be read by Apple" disclaimer. 

Granted, you can turn it all off via Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Significant Locations, and it's probably much less ominous than it sounds, but the fact that you have to constantly whack those tracking moles, for whatever noble reason, is disconcerting nonetheless.

source: Vice & CNET



1. libra89

Posts: 2335; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

I noticed this sometimes and it still feels weird to me. I turned off some of those things and it's a little better but the targeted ads are weird. Like I had one on Instagram that was telling to visit a store in my town that was renovated, even though I have location turned off for Instagram.

2. Doakie

Posts: 2478; Member since: May 06, 2009

I noticed this when I was speaking about the Huawei P20 Pro and how it has a triple camera setup to a co-worker and the next time I opened my YouTube the top video was a P20 Pro camera review.

3. libra89

Posts: 2335; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Whoa, that's weird.

4. danielvaida

Posts: 8; Member since: Mar 18, 2014

Happened to me and my brother a few times. We are both on Android.

7. Whitedot

Posts: 893; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

3 years ago. I was in the park while some random man was flying his RC helicopter and we had a chat. Ah hour later I opened my hotmail app and found out in my email link to amazon to buy one of RC helicopters. Obvious they are listening like hell. Privacy is illusion. It was Android phone.

11. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

But, but...the thumbnail has iPhones on it.

13. sissy246

Posts: 7129; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

Doesn't matter if Android or iPhone, it will happen on both.

23. Alter

Posts: 237; Member since: Mar 25, 2016

The URL says iPhone even though it obviously exists on Android and probably computers. This has never happened to me I guess because I don't have google now installed or use Facebook plus I have an ad blocker. Creepy nonetheless. Nearly impossible to have privacy these days.

21. miketer

Posts: 546; Member since: Apr 02, 2015

The same thing happened to me too. I was talking to a couple of friends one evening, to find a nice place to go out for brunch during the weekend. We spoke of different outlets and they went home after a few minutes. I then went in for a shower, came back and took my phone. In the notifications, there was Groupon massage of a weekend offer of brunch - buy 1 get 1 free. I felt so weird that time.

5. andriodfanboy1

Posts: 170; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

I have disabled all Facebook permissions

6. geordie8t1

Posts: 320; Member since: Nov 16, 2015

its creeping onto desktops/laptops as well, the user should have control over what the app receives, not the other way around, at its current setting, if you do not accept the permissions you cannot use the app, this should not be allowed, certain apps should only be able to have a few mandatory permissions based on the app itself so for example, a camera app should have access to microphone/gallary/gps/camera and anything directly related to photography on the phones hardware software, but it doesn't need permission to access my call logs or sms and the same goes for any other app, facebook included, the user should also be able to revoke permission of usage at any time without the app in question being able to say otherwise

8. Tahir215

Posts: 31; Member since: Jan 14, 2014

What we do now?

9. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3187; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Google is an ad agency that dabbles in phones. What the actual f**k did you all expect?

10. cmdacos

Posts: 4383; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

You can turn all locations sharing services off for apps but your carrier is still tracking and likely selling the info anyway. Stay off the network if you're concerned.

16. gamehead unregistered

This is news?

17. gdawilson

Posts: 299; Member since: Jul 21, 2014

I went on LinkedIn the other day and one of the recommended contacts was my previous roommate that I lived with for 2 weeks. I didn't have her on FB - no mutual friends, didn't have her number, and I barely saw her. Yet it was recommending her - this creeps me out if they're always listening...

19. libra89

Posts: 2335; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Whoa, now that is just creepy!

20. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Mic access permission is disabled on default in my phone. Btw, is there any legit experiment about it? i.e double-blind experiment using 2 phones, and 2 different account, while 1 phone got mic disabled, and researcher start talking about very spesific subject for 30minutes, and then compare result on both phone (or with 10 phones, and mic disabled on half of it.) Maybe it's really just a paranoia, you see what you want to see. You see literally thousand of ads a day when using facebook, and you ignore most of it because it's irrelevant, and then you see ads that's relevant to you and that's the only ads you remember that day. Then you start thinking "How did it know what I'm interested in", "Did my phone hear my conversation this morning", "Illuminati is real", and then writer start writing this article...

22. Pigaro

Posts: 91; Member since: May 15, 2016

I knew this long ago, but not here in Africa.

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