Apps Aren't Listening to You, But They Are Recording Your Screen

Apps Aren't Listening to You, But They Are Recording Your Screen

The bad news? In disproving one conspiracy theory, the researchers uncovered an equally invasive method of spying. So researchers at Northeastern University chose to look into it, testing 17,000 Android apps and monitoring what kind of information they sent home. Howevever, the study explicitly noted its limitations and doesn't definitively state that phones never record its users.

You need to be very cautious while granting permission to any app. Over 9,000 apps had permission to access the phone's microphone and camera, meaning they *technically* did have the right to listen in when the app was in use.

For the a year ago, researchers at Northeastern University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been experimenting on 17,000 of the most popular Android apps to figure out whether any of them are secretly using your phone's microphone to record you.

Thankfully, the researchers found phones don't record your conversations and send them to advertisers. It's a scary notion, but quite possibly an unfounded one. This included any app sending information to social media behemoth Facebook.

From the researchers: "Our study reveals several alarming privacy risks in the Android app ecosystem, including apps that over-provision their media permissions and apps that share image and video data with other parties in unexpected ways, without user knowledge or consent".

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As to the rest, says Carlsen, "If it offends people, I think it might be God trying to get their attention". What's controversial is that we're turning away from the values that should be guiding us.

The researchers used ten Android devices which ran an automated program to interact with the apps. Instead, some apps were making screen recordings and sharing those with third parties. Gizmodo drills down and pulls out examples like that of junk food delivery app GoPuff, which the site describes as monitoring user interactions with the app and sending them to a mobile analytics company called Appsee.

"We always appreciate the research community's hard work to help improve online privacy and security practices", a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo's Kashmir Hill. After the researchers contacted GoPuff, the company added disclosure of this policy to its privacy policy, and claimed that it removed the API from its latest builds.

In response, Appsee stated that GoPuff was at fault and they have "disabled tracking capabilities for the mentioned app and purged all recordings data from our servers". The incident demonstrates how easy it can be for companies to gather personal data, without the users knowing about it.

NU researchers Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson and David Choffnes are planning to present their findings at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium (PETS) in Barcelona in July.

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