Your cell phone is watching you: How to stop apps from tracking your every move

Mobile and gaming apps could be invading your privacy, an expert warns.

We warned you last week about computer chip flaws affecting almost every laptop and smartphone.

Tech companies are working on system updates to fix the flaw. But that’s not the only thing you need to be worried about when it comes to technology putting your security and privacy at risk--Many of the apps you use could be watching you!

We’re not talking about social media apps like Facebook; it has its own way of collecting information about you. We’re talking about gaming apps and others many of us use that track our every move, from what we watch on TV to the music we listen to.

They can track GPS locations and even wifi connection points. The purpose of the tracking is to target you with ads, but it's putting your privacy in jeopardy and there’s not much you can do about it.

Jeremy Rasmussen is the director of a cybersecurity firm called Abacode. He’s also a professor at USF. He says all apps need is access to your microphone or location and your privacy is compromised.

“Let’s say you’re in a particular geographic location, it knows you’re right near Subway and Chick-fil-A, I think I’ll serve up an ad for those and see if you want to go there maybe you’re hungry,” he said.

Rasmussen says the software in the apps uses your phone’s microphone to listen to everything you’re listening to.

“Theoretically it’s not going to wake up and start listening to you if you’re just talking in just regular conversation, but if it hears something that triggers it, it will wake up and listen to particular media heard,” he said.

The phones most at risk are Androids.

 “Android is a phone for people who like to hack.  the people who like to be able to change the settings on their phone and do different things but it comes with a price of less security as well.”

Apple stringently controls its developers, protecting you a little bit more but your information is still out there.

A recent New York Times article calls out a software tracking company called Alphonso, reporting its tracking software is quietly built into many Apple and Android apps. It also has a deal with Shazam and more than 250 other gaming apps that can track your every move.

Some of the games even are geared for children and can collect information when they're not in use. 

A USF student we spoke to refuses to download any apps on his phone for that very reason.  

“Paid and free apps alike collect insane amounts of data. Whether you are logged in or not, using them or not,” said Shane Cowper.

So what can you do to protect yourself? You could get rid of your phone altogether (that’s not happening) or if you don’t want to delete the apps, make sure you turn off your location settings, and microphone. It doesn’t guarantee full protection, but it will help.

Europe recently passed a measure strengthening data protection laws, companies not on compliance could be fined up to $20-million dollars.

No word if or when we’ll see those types of regulations here in the U.S.

 

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