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Is your phone really listening to you? DailyMail.com puts it to the test on a brand new cell


Your smartphone isn’t listening to you around the clock – but it’s gathering so much information it doesn’t even need.

It has long been speculated that Apple, Google, Samsung and other popular phone makers are recording users 24/7 to collect information for advertising purposes.

Most of us seem to have randomly promoted an advertisement for a product we would have sworn about and only talked about in private.

To test this, we set up a freshly factory reset Samsung phone, with a new Google account on our Android device.

We tried to pronounce the advertising phrases on the phone for several days

We created a fictitious person named Robin, 22, and created a fake Facebook account for him to use.

After spending several days trying to entice the device into giving us advertisements for European vacations and floor sealant, the device wouldn’t react to our buzzwords.

These devices won’t even need to log you in, Jordan Schroeder, who manages network security for Barrier Networks, told DailyMail.com, because they collect all the information you need through other means anyway.

After two days of saying product names near the phone—without writing them down or entering them through the device’s voice assistant—it was clear it hadn’t signed me up for use in ads.

Despite my attempts, I haven’t been able to create ads for vacations or home improvement goods.

Schroeder said this is because the costs of secretly recording millions of people to hear what they are talking about would be prohibitive.

He added that the data would also be worthless — especially with the huge amount companies like Google already know about you.

In 2022, Google’s advertising revenue is $224.47 billion.

But Schroeder said voice assistants on phones have made it more complicated — because they’re constantly listening, so they can hear “wake-up words” like “OK Google” or “Hey Siri.”

He continued, “Yes, Google, Apple and Amazon listen to you all the time if you have the virtual assistant enabled to listen for ‘keywords’.”

Samples of votes are regularly sent to their servers for analysis to improve their algorithms. Sometimes these samples go to people first to better classify the votes before they are sent to an algorithm for analysis.

But Google, Apple and Amazon deleted these samples (although there was an incident in 2019 where 1,000 private conversations were leaked).

Google is pretty transparent about “surveillance capitalism” – offering a page where you can see everything that’s being recorded about you (we tested it with a Google Account on an Android phone, both made by Google).

Your page can be accessed hereSigning in with your Google account shows you what the search giant knows about you.

Collected data includes what you do in apps that use Google ads, YouTube videos watched, searches made, what you click on, and what you say to Google Voice Assistance.

On that page, there is no sign of recording from the phone’s microphone.

But the vast amount of other data from apps, your phone, and your PC highlights just how much Google (and other companies like Facebook) can know about you.

In his book Industries of the Future, Alec Ross suggests that companies trade 75,000 data points for every American consumer — but that may now be an underestimate, as the book was written in 2016.

So after several days of saying things in front of the phone, there are no personalized ads anywhere in the “Robin” internet experience (we tested it by visiting webpages with ads).

That changes once “Robin” searches “luxury car” and “expensive bed” using Google’s voice assistant and Google search.

From that point on, advertisements for family businesses and expensive cars are popping up everywhere.

With a few more searches, Google created a page with brands that “Robin” might be interested in.

You can see yours here. It’s worth noting that you can customize this, turning off app tracking, website tracking — or even turning off personalized ads altogether.

The real danger, Schroeder said, comes from rogue apps that users may have downloaded.

“The phones have implemented controls to prevent apps from accessing microphones and cameras,” he said. They need to ask the user for permission first.

but there is a problem. This permission is requested upon downloading, possibly for legitimate reasons, but any subsequent use of the microphone may be for any reason.

Schroeder said phone companies have implemented measures to stop such “rogue” apps, such as removing permissions from apps that haven’t been used in a while.

“A designer app maker will still have windows of time to do what it wants with the permissions that have been granted to it,” he said.

Even then, it’s unlikely that any app maker would attempt to capture the public — and such “rogue” apps would likely be used in targeted attacks against individuals.

Using Google Assistant feeds data to Google.  Simply speaking into a microphone does not do it

Using Google Assistant feeds data to Google. Simply speaking into a microphone does not do it

This is an example of the data Google stores on you minute by minute (Google)

This is an example of the data Google stores on you minute by minute (Google)

After a few searches for family and Warhammer figures, Robin's page looked like this (Google)

After a few searches for family and Warhammer figures, Robin’s page looked like this (Google)

He said: ‘Recording and sending all the audio recordings that have been made of millions and millions of arbitrary people is not a trivial task and the costs are high to do so.

Given that so much information would be completely useless to anyone, it is highly unlikely that someone would create or modify an app to comprehensively record audio from the audience’s phones and all the other devices that everyone slowly collects.

The real danger is when individuals are targeted for a specific purpose.

When there is value in knowing everything an individual does, this kind of targeted surveillance makes more economic and technical sense.

Pegasus spyware – which can listen in on calls, track location and “watch” app activity – has been used to target human rights activists, journalists and politicians in several countries.

Mr Schroeder said, “If someone is a government employee or a member of the military, the risks of personal targeting are also much higher.

But that’s why governments and militaries have strict cybersecurity controls on how devices are configured and what kind of usage is acceptable on a personal device.

The broader issue, he said, is about how much data is being collected on all of us — where we go, to what buttons we press in apps, to what we say to personal assistants.

By 2025, IDC predicts that the world will produce 175 zettabytes (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of data.

The danger of this, Schroeder said, is not to individuals — but to society as a whole.

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