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05-17-2016, 09:08 AM
Is My Phone Eavesdropping On Me?

This week, we're talking with the one and only Walter Kirn. He covers privacy, tech and surveillance, and – unrelated – he wrote the book behind "Up in the Air" with George Clooney.

Do we know whether our gadgets are passively listening to us? No. We don’t know for sure, beyond what they tell us in their privacy policies. But we do know that voice recognition is what many major companies are trying to get us to start using. Google has OK Google, Apple has Siri, and Amazon has Echo, a home appliance that listens to you all the time. We know that many third party apps use location data services, and we know that personalization – especially personalized ads – rely on tracking.

We also know that there is a report out this week from the New America Foundation called "Ranking Digital Rights." Their team read all of the user agreements, privacy policies, and terms of service at major telecom and Internet companies, and then gave them scores on privacy and censorship. The best-scoring company was Google, with a 65 percent – a "D." Facebook scored 41 percent –an F-.

Walter Kirn's "this is a little bit too much of a coincidence" moment came in the kitchen, as he searched for a bag of walnuts. Listen to the show


Your Phone Is Listening—Literally Listening—to Your TV

All in the name of serving you more targeted ads
The TV is on in the background, and you’re replying to a quick email on your phone nearby. You don’t know it, but the devices are communicating. During a commercial, the TV emits an inaudible tone and your phone, which was listening for it, picks it up. Somewhere far away, a server makes a note: Both devices probably belong to you.

This information about which devices belong to whom is immensely valuable to advertisers hoping to target ads specifically to you. In a simpler time, targeted marketing was easy. Most people had a computer at work and maybe another at home. If you sent an email about your new cat, ads for cat food started cropping up. If you searched for Thanksgiving recipes, Safeway coupons for turkeys appeared in your Facebook newsfeed.

But a newer method of cross-device tracking wanders into the realm of science fiction. According to a filing from the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital human rights and privacy advocacy organization, companies have figured out how to use inaudible sounds to establish links between devices.

Here’s how software from SilverPush, a leading provider of “audio beacons,” works: When you visit a website that uses SilverPush tracking technology, the site causes your device to emit an inaudible ultrasonic sound. If any other devices you’ve got lying around—a laptop, a phone, a tablet—has an app installed that includes SilverPush code, it’s listening for that sound. If it hears it, SilverPush knows that the two devices are close to one another and, presumably, belong to the same person.

More recently, SilverPush expanded into television advertising: Certain TV commercials include an ultrasonic audio beacon. Any nearby devices running SilverPush software will be listening for the beacon—if a device hears it, it records the match, allowing the company to figure out what ads users watch and for how long, and add that information to the user’s profile.


When it comes to audio beacons, Hall says he’s not just worried about marketing companies tracking average consumers—he thinks their techniques could be used by governments for surveillance. For example, if a group of dissidents in a country like China were to meet in secret, their phones might pick up a government-planted ultrasonic audio signal from a nearby TV. If hidden code on their phones relayed to the government that they all heard the tone, agents could easily tell that the dissidents were associated with one another, and meeting surreptitiously.

To address these privacy questions, SilverPush is in contact with the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Bhatt says his company is “actively engaging with all the stakeholders.”


Cross-device tracking has caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which recently convened a workshop to discuss the technologies and associated risks. Hall said he hopes the FTC will issue guidelines for building transparency and control into cross-device tracking technologies. Next-generation tracking technologies like SilverPush, he says, should be required to meet a “higher bar” of warning users they’re being followed.

As new tracking technologies take hold, so too will technologies to block them. Experts are already hard at work searching for audio beacons and trying to identify their characteristics, laying the groundwork for ways to limit the reach of the ultrasonic signals that may one day populate our airwaves.


Whistleblower: Google Chrome Can Listen To Your Conversations
January 23, 2014

Paul Joseph Watson
January 23, 2014

A whistleblower who privately informed Google four months ago that their Chrome browser had the ability to record conversations without the user’s knowledge has gone public after the tech giant failed to fix the issue.


In the video above, the programmer explains how Google Chrome’s speech recognition function remains operational even after the user has left the website on which they gave permission for the browser to record their voice.

“When you click the button to start or stop the speech recognition on the site, what you won’t notice is that the site may have also opened another hidden pop under window. This window can wait until the main site is closed, and then start listening in without asking for permission. This can be done in a window that you never saw, never interacted with, and probably didn’t even know was there,” writes the whistleblower.


As we have previously highlighted, terms of agreement for both Android and iPhone apps now require users to agree to allow their microphone to be activated at any time without confirmation before they can download the app.

Facebook’s term’s of agreement also allow the social network giant to record your phone calls, read your phone’s call log and “read data about contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”

05-17-2016, 10:57 AM
I am reporting this thread to your phone.