smartphone collection data

Is your smartphone listening to your conversations? I’ve had a lot of creepy experiences lately, where a verbal conversation I’ve had with someone is suddenly being reflected in the adverts being served up to me by my Android smartphone. For example, someone asked me about who Help For Heroes were, so I explained it – and then what was the very next advert to show up on my phone, after never being considered or searched for before using that device or any other?

Mental health support for ex-servicemen. Just one of many. So I started digging to find out more about how this is happening – and whether anyone genuinely has the rights to listen in to my conversations.

As it turns out, it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s been discovered that your smartphone really is listening in and collecting data about you. Hundreds of smartphone apps are using a technology from a company called Alphonso, which accesses a phone’s microphone to collect advertising data.

Alphonso’s software seems to be particularly focused on a user’s TV-watching habits. It listens in on the phone’s local environment, and receives audio samples which it compares to commercial content. If a match is found, it will then attempt to deliver targeted ads for that same content to your phone.

There are obvious concerns here regarding data protection. Although Alphonso states that its software doesn’t record conversations, and that consent is given by users by agreeing to each app’s privacy policy, there are still questions to be answered about whether its actions are in contravention of data protection laws.

Did these apps genuinely get our specific, informed, granular consent to do this? And is this consent retractable? If not, then it would appear that this kind of data collection doesn’t conform to GDPR.

If you want to prevent your smartphone listening to your conversations, there are several things you can do to safeguard your data. Most crucially, you need to control permissions for your smartphone’s microphone:

  • For iOS, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Microphone
  • For Android, go to Settings -> Apps -> App Permissions

So I changed the permissions of which apps could use my phone’s microphone. Now the ads I see are stuck in a timewarp – still trying to flog the same things they were a month ago. So, you win some… you lose some!

Want to find out more about GDPR and data protection? Click here for all the information you need…