Snooping: It’s not a crime, it’s a feature

New apps hijack the microphone in your cell phone to listen in on your life

Mike Elgan
April 16, 2011

Cellphone users say they want more privacy, and app makers are listening.

No, they’re not listening to user requests. They’re literally listening to the sounds in your office, kitchen, living room and bedroom.

A new class of smartphone app has emerged that uses the microphone built into your phone as a covert listening device — a “bug,” in common parlance.

But according to app makers, it’s not a bug. It’s a feature!

The apps use ambient sounds to figure out what you’re paying attention to. It’s the next best thing to reading your mind.

Your phone is listening

The issue was brought to the world’s attention recently on a podcast called This Week in Tech. Host Leo Laporte and his panel shocked listeners by unmasking three popular apps that activate your phone’s microphone to collect sound patterns from inside your home, meeting, office or wherever you are.

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.

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