The Spy Phone Conspiracy

There’s a modern conspiracy theory that suggests that our smart phones are listening to our conversations, and uploading and transmitting those conversations to nefarious agencies. What we say is then used for advertising purposes, for some clandestine black-ops spying, or simply to keep track of the masses and gauge their responses to certain events.

We all enjoy a bit of a conspiracy now and then, whether it’s hidden alien bases inside mountains, or a shadowy cabal of individuals leading the world into global conflict from a secretive members club hidden deep in Disneyland. Sadly, though, the truth is often much duller than the myth, and such is the case with regards to our phones listening in on us.

A recent study by cybersecurity group Wandera has in fact revealed that there’s no evidence of our phones, or apps, recording our conversations and uploading them to a cloud storage facility. The researchers at Wandera put two devices, a Samsung Android phone and an Apple iPhone, in a room that played continual loops of dog and cat food adverts for thirty minutes. The team also placed identical phones in a quiet, audio-proof, room for a similar time.

In addition the team opened Facebook, Instagram, Chrome, SnapChat, YouTube and Amazon, all with full permissions to the devices, and after the allotted time they analysed the amount of data sent from each device in each of the rooms. These experiments were conducted at the same time of day for three days running, and the results demonstrated that there were no significant spikes in data or battery use during the experiments

The amount of data sent from the devices barely hit 0.1 of a megabyte, and the only clear rise in data transfer was when the team activated Siri or OK Google. James Mack, a systems engineer at Wandera stated:

“We observed that the data from our tests is much lower than the virtual assistant data over the 30-minute time period, which suggests that the constant recording of conversations and uploading to the cloud is not happening on any of these tested apps. If it was, we’d expect data usage to be as high as the virtual assistants’ data consumption.”

However, the team is still working on the experiment and seeing if there is anything behind the theory that our phones are spying on us; but confidence that they aren’t is high.

But, that doesn’t mean to say that our phones aren’t up to something. There are many different ways in which a mobile device can track a person’s activities, habits and what they’re interested in through a combination of different sources.

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By monitoring a user’s social media interactions, what they look up on Amazon, what videos they watch on YouTube, and a host of other such background monitoring, these apps can build a pretty reliable set of data on you. This data can then be used to push adverts for products you’re most likely to be interested in, or suggest content for you; there are even suggestions that with enough data on someone, a group can predict what they’re likely to do in any given situation before they even do it. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it.

David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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