Does Your Cell Phone Spy On You?

Your cell phone may have a legitimate reason to give our your whereabouts via GPS (think 911 service, which will soon be able to pinpoint your location), but how about listening to you – all the time!

As always, technology is a two-edged sword. I remember when there was a big todo about the FBI listening in on conversations through the GM OnStar system. GM and other car technology companies can listen in on your conversations and even bring your car to a stop and shut it off.

This may be great for emergencies or carjackings, but who’s on the other end of this technology?

Then there was the idea of implanting RFID chips in humans to limit/allow access to secure areas or computers. My reaction was “Are you nuts?” Most kids under 25 were saying “You mean I don’t have to log into my computer anymore? Cool!”

Leo LaPorte brought up the subject of apps turning on your cell phone’s microphone – without your knowledge – and listening to your ‘environment’ in an early April podcast of his show (about 10 minutes into it).

Mike Elgan of Computerworld took it a step further by listing the apps that turn on your cell phones microphone by sarcastically saying “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

One app uses your cell phone microphone to detect when people are in the same room. Another picks up inaudible signals when you walk into a store. A third listens to TV broadcasts to allow social networking or display content relative to the scene.

If you agreed to this it was buried in the legalese (EULA) that nobody reads. The companies say that they are just recording “sound patterns” that load into a database. But, according to Mike Elgan

By listening in on your phone, capturing “patterns,” then sending that data back to servers, marketers can determine the following:

  • Your gender, and the gender of people you talk to.
  • Your approximate age, and the ages of the people you talk to.
  • What time you go to bed, and what time you wake up.
  • What you watch on TV and listen to on the radio.
  • How much of your time you spend alone, and how much with others.
  • Whether you live in a big city or a small town.
  • What form of transportation you use to get to work.

All this data and more, plus the UDI on your phone, could enable advertising companies to send you very narrowly targeted advertising for products and services that you’re likely to want.

The question is – should you be pleased or frightened?

Hell, the FBI used this technology years ago to arrest two alleged mobsters, but the consensus is that they had to have physical access to the cell phones.  Now people are downloading the apps themselves.

Apps can monitor your cell phone microphone, or any mobile device (like iPad) whether it’s turned on or off. The only way around it is to remove the battery, something which security conscious execs and the like do routinely.

Just another word to the wise…