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 24 hours a day, but it’s collecting so much information that it doesn’t even need it.

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

Most of us have apparently been randomly promoted by an advertisement for a product that we could have sworn was only talked about in private.

To test this, we set up a freshly reset Samsung phone, using a new Google account on the Android device.

We tried saying advertising slogans to a phone for several days

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

After spending several days trying to trick the device into offering us advertisements for European vacations and floor sealer, the device was unresponsive to our buzzwords.

Jordan Schroeder, who manages network security at Barrier Networks, told DailyMail.com that these devices wouldn’t even need to register you because they collect all the information they need by other means anyway. .

After two days of saying the names of products near the phone – without typing them in or entering them through the device’s voice assistant, it was clear that it was not recording me for advertising purposes.

Despite my attempts, I was unable to generate ads for vacations or home improvement items.

Indeed, the costs of secretly taping millions of people to hear what they are talking about would be enormous, Schroeder said.

The data would also be worthless, he added, especially with the huge amount that companies such as Google already know about you.

In 2022, Google’s ad revenue was $224.47 billion.

But Mr Schroeder said voice assistants on phones have made the matter more complex – because they are constantly listening, so they can hear ‘wake words’ such as ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hey Siri’.

He went on to say, “Yes, Google, Apple, and Amazon listen to you all the time if you have the virtual assistant turned on to listen for ‘keywords’.

“Sound samples are regularly sent to their servers for analysis in order to improve their algorithms. And sometimes those samples go to people first to better classify the sounds before sending them to an algorithm for analysis.

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

Google is very transparent about its “surveillance capitalism” – offering a page where you can see everything it records about you (we tested with a Google account on an Android phone, both made by Google).

Your page can be accessed here, and signing in with your Google account shows you what the search giant knows about you.

The data collected includes what you do in apps that use Google advertising, YouTube videos viewed, searches performed, what you click on, and what you say to Google’s voice assistance feature.

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

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

In his book The Industries of the Future, Alec Ross suggests that companies trade 75,000 data points on every American consumer – but that’s probably now a gross understatement, as the book was written in 2016.

So, after several days of saying things in front of the phone, there are no personalized ads in the ‘Robin’ web experience (we tested by visiting web pages with ads).

This changes as soon as ‘Robin’ searches for ‘luxury car’ and ‘expensive bed’ using the Google voice assistant and Google search.

From then on, advertisements for bed companies and expensive cars popped up everywhere.

With a few more searches, Google came up with a page with brands ‘Robin’ might be interested in.

You can see yours here. It’s worth noting that you can customize this, opting out of app tracking, website tracking – or even opting out of personalized ads altogether.

The real risk comes from malicious apps users might have downloaded, Schroeder said.

He said: “Phones have controls in place to prevent apps from accessing microphones and cameras. They must first request permission from the user.

‘But that is the problem. This permission is requested when downloading, and may be for legitimate reasons, but any subsequent use of the mic may be for any reason.

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

He said, “A determined app maker would always have time to do what they wanted with the permissions they were given.”

Even then, an app maker is unlikely to try to register the general public – and such “rogue” apps are much more likely to be used in targeted attacks against individuals.

Using Google Assistant feeds data to Google.  Simply speaking into your microphone is not enough

Using Google Assistant feeds data to Google. Simply speaking into your microphone is not enough

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

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

After some searching for Warhammer beds and miniatures, Robin's page looked like this (Google)

After some searching for Warhammer beds and miniatures, Robin’s page looked like this (Google)

He said, “Recording and sending all this recorded audio from arbitrary millions and millions of people is not a trivial task and the costs are high to do so.

‘Since much of the information would be completely useless to anyone, it is highly unlikely that anyone would create or modify an application to globally record audio from payphones and all other devices that everyone gathers slowly.

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

When it makes sense to know everything an individual does, then this type of targeted surveillance makes more economic and technical sense.

The Pegasus spyware – which can listen to calls, track location and “monitor” 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 chances of being personally targeted are also much higher.

But that’s why governments and militaries have strict cybersecurity controls over how devices should be configured and what type of use is acceptable on a personal device.

He said the wider issue is about the amount of data collected about all of us – from where we go, to the buttons we press in apps, to what we say to personal assistants.

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

The danger is not for individuals – but for society as a whole, Schroeder said.

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