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Reck B

Can marketers listen to you using your phone mic?

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I had a meeting with some social media marketers last year. During the meeting they told me that it's possible to target people based on the private conversations they have. I asked if they meant that facebook scan your messages (ie messenger/whatsapp) looking for keywords to present relevant ads to the user - they said yes and actual voice conversations. I dismissed it, thinking "bullshit" - they were young nerdy types and probably watched the matrix a few too many times.

Last week my wife met up with her friend at a gym club - they were talking about where to start swimming club for our youngest. Her friend suggested that she should try a pool called Cofton but she didn't know the timetable.

In her friends facebook feed that night was an advert for Cofton swimming pool, showing the timetable. I asked if either had mentioned Cofton in whatsapp/messenger or if they had googled it (as this would be more likely than some kind of weird evesdropping voice to text shitbot) but they hadn't.

 

In another incident (which shows that social media companies do actually trawl through your messages) my sis in law was presented with ad advert for a pendant engraved with the letters "DB" which is how she refers to her daughter when messaging by wife on social media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Reck B

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I thought that the promise of WhatsApp was that all communication was encrypted end-to-end with private (to the users involved) certificates, so in theory nobody - including Facebook - could listen in.

But I've never actually believed that.

Are you saying that the conversation wasn't actually over WhatsApp, but face-to-face, and you now wonder if the app had been listening in without permission?

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Had this conversation in the office recently. Lots of people say they've  been ad targeted after random conversations. Facebook deny it's Messenger but I found a youtube video with a couple claiming to have proved it is.

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19 minutes ago, DTMark said:

I thought that the promise of WhatsApp was that all communication was encrypted end-to-end with private (to the users involved) certificates, so in theory nobody - including Facebook - could listen in.

But I've never actually believed that.

Are you saying that the conversation wasn't actually over WhatsApp, but face-to-face, and you now wonder if the app had been listening in without permission?

Yes, the conversation about Cofton was face to face. And you're probably right about whatsapp, I try not to use any of it and would happily bin my smart noseyphone if it weren't for useful work stuff on it.

Edited by Reck B

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I'm sure Google eavesdrops on me - the search prediction when I've just been taking about something with my husband and then I go to Google it is just too good. Unfortunately lots of things break when you turn off the mic permissions for Google play services.

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Quite a few times I have been discussing something with someone and we finally decide to check on Google, I type the first 3 letters into the phone and it prompts straightaway for a phrase encapsulating the whole of the subject that we were discussing. On one occasion the first 3 letters were "m" "a" "n" -there are so many other things that could start with that........

I have the definite impression that my phone is listening to me.

Edit :- This Time beat me to it, so it's not just me.

Edited by swissy_fit

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Yes we've discussed some unusual things only to have them appear on advertising. We did test it talking about solar panels and got solar panel adverts. Someone's listening.

There's a lot of people allowing it. Hey Alexa! 

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6 minutes ago, swissy_fit said:

 On one occasion the first 3 letters were "m" "a" "n" -there are so many other things that could start with that........

 

yes, but only one that ends with "g" "i" "n" "a".

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3 minutes ago, This Time said:

I'm sure Google eavesdrops on me - the search prediction when I've just been taking about something with my husband and then I go to Google it is just too good. Unfortunately lots of things break when you turn off the mic permissions for Google play services.

(investigates options on new phone)

I can bring up a list of apps, click into each, and see "Permissions" - most have "No Permissions".

There's an app called "Google", not entirely sure what that does. I guess it's for the search widget thing. And it does indeed have permission to access the microphone. Indeed everything except the camera.

It would need the microphone if I wanted to speak at it and the location for local searches.

Quite why it needs the other things is a mystery. I think I'll ignore this dire warning and disable them all.

 

Screenshot_20180117-154358.png

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Just now, DTMark said:

(investigates options on new phone)

I can bring up a list of apps, click into each, and see "Permissions" - most have "No Permissions".

There's an app called "Google", not entirely sure what that does. I guess it's for the search widget thing. And it does indeed have permission to access the microphone. Indeed everything except the camera.

It would need the microphone if I wanted to speak at it and the location for local searches.

Quite why it needs the other things is a mystery. I think I'll ignore this dire warning and disable them all.

 

Screenshot_20180117-154358.png

Lots of stuff is about to stop working for you - it'll be back on in half an hour or less.

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2 minutes ago, DTMark said:

(investigates options on new phone)

I can bring up a list of apps, click into each, and see "Permissions" - most have "No Permissions".

There's an app called "Google", not entirely sure what that does. I guess it's for the search widget thing. And it does indeed have permission to access the microphone. Indeed everything except the camera.

It would need the microphone if I wanted to speak at it and the location for local searches.

Quite why it needs the other things is a mystery. I think I'll ignore this dire warning and disable them all.

 

Screenshot_20180117-154358.png

 

Yep, this is the killer google ap - if you don't allow it to do all it wants it basically hangs or hangs your phone. If you enable everything it works fine but suspicion is that it gives way much access.

To answer the original question - the mics on phones can be used to listen to you. It is just a question of whether the companies are doing this.

Near field communication is another dodgy one IMPO.

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The Google search widget still works fine..

Email appears to be broken but it has been that way since this morning. The phone seems to have stopped updating that at around 09:30 and it's stuck where it is. But that's something else that I can't be bothered to look into at the moment. I only got it working yesterday. It seems to have run for about 22 hours and then just stopped.

 

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1 minute ago, swissy_fit said:

Are there any phones with a less wankerish intrusive operating system? That you can still get apps for?

Can't believe Apple or Windows would be any better.

Windows doesn't even bother asking you about permissions. Install, say, the Instagram app on a Windows Phone and then check later: you'll find it has been given permission to access your Contacts. You then wonder if it grabbed a copy and uploaded them.

iPhones do generally ask, from what I remember. Mine was set to always ask if I wanted to share location on a one-by-one basis.

Some Android apps seem to be very sloppy in requesting access to "everything it might ever need one day", the answer is just not to install these apps. I can't recall which one it is, quite a "big" one, that I had to decline because of what it was asking for, which is a bit annoying, but I'll just go without it.

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4 minutes ago, DTMark said:

Windows doesn't even bother asking you about permissions. Install, say, the Instagram app on a Windows Phone and then check later: you'll find it has been given permission to access your Contacts. You then wonder if it grabbed a copy and uploaded them.

iPhones do generally ask, from what I remember. Mine was set to always ask if I wanted to share location on a one-by-one basis.

Some Android apps seem to be very sloppy in requesting access to "everything it might ever need one day", the answer is just not to install these apps. I can't recall which one it is, quite a "big" one, that I had to decline because of what it was asking for, which is a bit annoying, but I'll just go without it.

If I could be bothered there is probably a way of "rooting" the phone (calm down Australians) and installing a cut-down version of Android that someone has adapted to remove all this information theft. However the hours/days of mucking about this would involve don't appeal much...........

 

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The GMail app has now crashed. It has been stuck trying to synchronise my Exchange mailbox since 09:30 this morning. In the meantime the desktop, on the same connection, is working perfectly.

"Force Stop" for the app is disabled. And so begins the Android "turn it off and on again" routine. I seem to have this effect on mobile phones.

That done, emails from before 09:30 have now reappeared having been deleted from both the mobile and the desktop - odd - and it has come back to life. So it's not related to the Google settings change. More like a crash during the IMAP sync of the other mailbox. Nothing (else) seems to have broken, but I've only checked a few things - we shall see :)

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30 minutes ago, DTMark said:

Some Android apps seem to be very sloppy in requesting access to "everything it might ever need one day", the answer is just not to install these apps. I can't recall which one it is, quite a "big" one, that I had to decline because of what it was asking for, which is a bit annoying, but I'll just go without it.

The permission system isn't that fine grained so developers might be forced to ask for more permissions than they need. For example if you want to send an SMS to someone in your contacts the app would need to have access to all your contacts, not just the one you select to send the SMS to.

 

No I don't think my Android phone is listening to me - it is generally faraday caged in any case (inside a metal desk draw with data off).

Edited by davidg

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49 minutes ago, The Masked Tulip said:

 

Yep, this is the killer google ap - if you don't allow it to do all it wants it basically hangs or hangs your phone. If you enable everything it works fine but suspicion is that it gives way much access.

To answer the original question - the mics on phones can be used to listen to you. It is just a question of whether the companies are doing this.

Near field communication is another dodgy one IMPO.

Well, i guess it has to be listening all the time to pick up your "Hey, Siri !" command.

On iPhone the camera has a 'live' photo option which seems to take a short video capture before and after you take the image. I guess this means the camera is filming all the time too? at least when the camera function is on.

No wonder my fucking battery lasts less than a day.

Edited by Reck B

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48 minutes ago, swissy_fit said:

Are there any phones with a less wankerish intrusive operating system? That you can still get apps for?

Can't believe Apple or Windows would be any better.

I use a Nokia S60 phone for work.  

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3 minutes ago, Reck B said:

Well, i guess it has to be listening all the time to pick up your "Hey, Siri !" command.

 

The theory is that the activation command is hardwired into the local device.  All other speech recognition is done in cloud.

think that the software picks up on 'it could be the activation command' and then sends to cloud for confirmation -- and then while it's there they have a look at content.  I'd presume that they don't worry too much about that system having a hair-trigger.  But its all hidden in so much secrecy that I really don't know.

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If you go to 'Google voice and audio activity' you can see a transcript of everything they admit to having recorded. 

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59 minutes ago, Reck B said:

Well, i guess it has to be listening all the time to pick up your "Hey, Siri !" command.

On iPhone the camera has a 'live' photo option which seems to take a short video capture before and after you take the image. I guess this means the camera is filming all the time too? at least when the camera function is on.

No wonder my fucking battery lasts less than a day.

Doesn't it have to be plugged in to recognise "Hey Siri", otherwise you have to press and hold the main button down to talk to it?

(I ended up disabling Siri on mine, partly out of security concern and partly because I was always activating it accidentally with said button)

The camera isn't filming all the time. AFAIK :)

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I think some of you are overestimating how good voice recognition actually is - and equally underestimating how much advertisers know about you from your cookies; listening in to a conversation in a quiet room when the phone is on a table isn't easy...  but listening in to a gaggle of women jabbering on in slang/regional accents about swimming pools? I don't think so. Most men wouldn't understand, let alone a computer.

More than likely she Googled something related to that, for example, 'get fit', two weeks ago and Google/Facebook use those parameters to search locally to match with keywords specified by the company, or via machine learning based on more recent searches. Maybe she clicked on a photo of someone at another swimming pool, etc. You can turn this off, by the way (and you should): https://support.google.com/ads/answer/2662922?hl=en-GB

If you want a real-life example, then Google the cast of XXXX show/movie, pick and search for ONE of the people listed. Then go back and pick another person from the same castlist, type in  just the 1st or 2nd letter of their name and it'll auto-predict the rest... Google is remembering the searches you type across your session via cookies and making predictions based on that, not eavesdropping on your handset.

You can test just how good voice recognition is by using the one that comes bundled with new cars - it's bollocks. "Put on Radio Two", it understands as "turn off the radio" :ph34r: No way will it understand a place name like Cofton either.

* This doesnt mean they aren't trying to listen, they probably are, because they're evil, but this kind of technology is years off IMO.

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