Amid concerns that smartphones are secretly listening to conversations, security researchers from Northeastern University in Boston launched a study to determine whether the security breaches are really happening.
The good news is that the researchers found no evidence of devices secretly recording conversations. The bad news, however, is that they discovered another way on how smartphones are spying on users.
Do Smartphones Record Conversations?
Over recent years, one of the biggest conspiracy theories regarding smartphones and their apps is that they use the device's microphone to secretly listen to conversations. The purpose of the intrusive behavior is to determine which ads should be served to users.
Northeastern University researchers launched a study to determine the truth behind the belief. Over the previous year, the computer science experts carried out an experiment that involved over 17,000 of the most popular Android apps. The study attempted to find out whether any of them, including apps owned by Facebook and more than 8,000 apps that sent data to Facebook, really captured audio using the microphones of smartphones.
In the publication of their findings, the researchers claimed that they found no evidence among the thousands of apps that they discreetly activated smartphones microphones and sent out audio. The discovery may finally lay to rest the concerns that Facebook is secretly listening to conversations of users.
Unfortunately though, the researchers found another way on how smartphones and apps are spying on users.
Is Your Phone Secretly Taking Screenshots?
According to the researchers, while they debunked the conversation-recording concern, they discovered another "alarming" privacy issue among the Android apps. Apparently, some of them secretly take screenshots and video recordings, and then send them to third parties.
One of the apps that the researchers identified was goPuff, a food delivery app. It records how users interact with the app through screenshots, and then sends the data to Appsee. The mobile analytics firm then shows developers how people use their app, as well as any problems that they may be experiencing.
In the case with goPuff, only the user's zip code is exposed to Appsee, with the firm saying that developers can block sensitive parts of apps, such as where personal and financial details are stored. However, the researchers said that few developers using Appsee actually do that.
The biggest concern, however, is that while all this is happening, users have no clue that the Android apps are taking screenshots of what they do, for another instance on how smartphones violate user privacy.