Your phone listens to you and makes it easy for marketing companies to target you. What can you do about it?
According to NordVPN’s research, there has been a 5% increase in monitoring app installs over the past year. However, some users suspect that their smartphones are spying on them, even if they don’t have any monitoring apps installed.
This is the truth. Virtual assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa are constantly listening to their users. They have to listen constantly to hear the voice commands and be useful. However, some things people say are recorded for the companies’ own benefit, such as improving the quality of their services or for marketing purposes.
“When you ask Google Assistant or Siri to find something, this information is used to serve you online advertising. It’s no different than typing something into Google’s search engine. If you are looking for car deals in your city, you will start seeing car related ads all over the internet. In a way, a virtual assistant is just another search engine“, – says Daniel Marcusson, Digital Privacy Specialist at NordVPN.
He explains how you can check if your phone is spying on you.
How to test your smartphone?
The best way to see if your phone is helping marketing companies target you is to cheat.
- Choose a good topic. It should be something not normally associated with your personality, something you would never talk about.
- Isolate the theme from your phone. Do not use your phone or any other device you own to search for information on this topic. The best way to do this is to think silently. Make sure you’ve never googled this topic.
- Select keywords. Think of a list of keywords related to the topic that search engines might use.
- Discuss the topic out loud next to your phone. You can do it alone or with someone else for a few minutes. Do this several days in a row. Make sure you never look for information on the topic any other way. your phone only needs to hear you talk about it.
Once you’ve cheated, check to see if new ads appear on your social media or other digital channels related to this topic. If this happens, your phone is probably helping you get this ad.
Is it legal to eavesdrop on users?
When a user uses a virtual assistant, he actually agrees to the terms of the service provider. Because you’ve given your consent, it’s legal to track your conversations with Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, and others for marketing purposes.
This only becomes illegal if an app is spying on you without your consent. That’s why it’s important to review the permissions you give each service and know how your phone is tracking you.
How can you protect your privacy?
First, you need to review your app permissions.
“Once logged in, apps can do whatever they want with that data. Then make sure you set up a routine to check app permissions on your phone and think twice before accepting app requests.Daniel Markusson, NordVPN’s digital security specialist, emphasizes.
Some apps may want to access your microphone for no reason. This can allow malicious actors to spy on you in the background or collect data for advertising purposes when you’re not listening. Check your smartphone settings and make sure your apps can only access the resources they need to perform their function.
Also, clear your activity logs from time to time and turn off the audio recording feature. Apple, Google, and other service providers allow you to clear your dictation history. Be careful about the information you tell your phone at all.
“Don’t share too much information with your phone. The less I know the better“, – says Daniel Marcuson.
Finally, install a VPN on your smartphone to improve your privacy. A virtual private network masks your IP address and encrypts your online traffic, thus improving your privacy.
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