These Researchers Are Discovering Hidden Ways Our Phones Spy on Us

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Many of the apps that you download and use on a daily basis collect information from you. You probably already know that, but you may not know the extent of it.

Largely, that’s because of a layer of obfuscation that makes it hard to know what data apps and services are collecting — and just who they’re sharing that data with.

And while the apps themselves may not give out those details, there’s a group of researchers across the globe trying to find out.

Everyone Is Tracking You

Security researchers across the globe have found that many apps take much more data than you might be led to believe.

In fact, these apps may harvest data even when you tell them not to.

And worse, they often collect more information than what is outlined in their privacy policies.

Some apps have even been found to collect data through sources they don’t have permission for, such as a device’s microphone, camera or Location Services.

For the most part, a lot of this data is shared with advertisers. But some of it may also be going to government agencies or third parties.

To figure out just what apps are taking, a group of researchers from various universities and advocacy groups has been using techniques such as network traffic analysis to take a peek under the hood, CNET reports.

Over the years, their research has shined a spotlight on many data collection practices that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

It was one of these researchers who discovered that AccuWeather was sharing personal location data even when Location Services was disabled. Another researcher recently found that Amazon’s Ring app for Android was loaded with trackers sharing data with Facebook and other analytics firms.

And it’s a team effort on the part of tracking services, too. Many tracking firms work together to assign a unique ID that will follow you around — even after you’ve switched devices.

What You Can Do to Stop It

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that the average user can do to stop it. The most obvious way would be to avoid apps with shady privacy practices and go with ones that have airtight policies.

That is much easier said than done. Aside from setting up a network traffic analysis lab yourself, you may just need to do the research and figure out what the professionals are finding.

Serge Egelman, director of usable security and privacy research at the International Computer Science Institute, has made certain data and tools available to consumers through a startup called Appcensus.

And some of the researchers are working on consumer-facing tools that can help cut down on these trackers. Apple, of course, is playing its part, too.

Until all of these tools and techniques become more mainstream, you’re probably best sticking with first-party Apple services and avoiding notorious data harvesters.

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