The Spy in Your Pocket
How long has it been since you accessed your smartphone? An hour? 15 minutes? Maybe you’re using it right now to read this blog post. With the advanced capabilities of our smartphones today, it’s no wonder we spend several hours a day using our mobile devices. We use it to count our steps, help us navigate, edit photos, deposit checks, among many other tasks.
The reason we’re able to accomplish all of these diverse tasks through a single device that fits in the palm of our hand is because of the sophisticated sensory features embedded in our phones and in apps including a barometer, light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetic sensor and more.
As great as this technology can be, it can also leave us vulnerable to prying eyes and eavesdropping ears. Google recently booted 20 apps from Android phones because the apps could record your voice and the voice of others, take photos and monitor a phone’s location, and then extract this information invisibly through the user’s wireless connection- all without the user’s knowledge. Not only can a hacked phone track your every step and determine the location you’re moving toward through motion sensors embedded in your phone, these sensors can even determine whether you’re driving a car, walking or riding on a train.
The potential of apps currently being tested in laboratories is extraordinary. One app was able to discern keystrokes with 99.5% accuracy in a recent test, and another synchronized a smartphone’s microphone with its portable speaker creating a sonar system with the ability to map a person’s movements in their own home.
On the other hand, I know we’ve all experienced the targeted ads that show up on our Facebook page trying to sell us chemical-free soaps, durable paper towels or even the latest and greatest trash can after a quick Google search on our smartphone for home cleaning services. Legitimate apps are able to collect personal data including search engine history and downloaded apps to sell to advertising companies, who then market directly to us through that same hand-held device.
So how do we regain at least a little bit of privacy? There actually are apps in development that are striving to help do just that. One app, called 6thSense, will monitor a phone’s magnetic sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer and light sensors and alert its user to any unusual behavior. Researchers are also testing systems that will potentially intercept any raw sensor data that an app tries to access and strips the data down to only the features necessary to make user-approved inferences. With help like this on the way, there’s hope that we can take action to make sure we get some of our privacy back.
Some of the material above was prepared by Bob Veres Inside Information.