Researchers Find Apps Aren’t Recording Your Conversations (But Some Are Grabbing Screenshots)

  • Researchers Find Apps Aren’t Recording Your Conversations (But Some Are Grabbing Screenshots)

Researchers Find Apps Aren’t Recording Your Conversations (But Some Are Grabbing Screenshots)

Researchers at Northeastern University in the US found no evidence that your phone is secretly recording you to serve you targeted ads - a longtime conspiracy theory that even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to personally debunk in front of US Congress earlier this year. Of course, to be certain, the study doesn't prove that no app listens to you - just, that they found none doing so in study. The researchers - Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson, and David Choffnes - studied the behavior of more than 17,000 popular Android apps to determine whether they stealthy access your phone's microphone to record audio. The most prominent example for this conspiracy theory is Facebook ads that show up mysteriously based on the things you might have conversed about recently. Those apps would be the ones being able to overhear a user's need for a new pair of shoes or how much they want to see a particular movie. They attributed this possibility to a limitation of the research that an automated system can not create usernames or sign in like humans.

At no point did the researchers see an app activate the microphone to record a conversation or send an audio file without prompt. Howevever, the study explicitly noted its limitations and doesn't definitively state that phones never record its users.

The unusual practice they started to see was that screenshots and video recordings of what people were doing in apps were being sent to third party domains. GoPuff is a delivery app for people who really want junk food fast.

"Our study reveals several alarming privacy risks in the Android app ecosystem, including apps that over-provision their media permissions and apps that share image and video data with other parties in unexpected ways, without user knowledge or consent", the researchers said.

In one example, Gizmodo reported, the popular United States delivery app GoPuff recorded and sent screen recordings to a mobile analytics company called AppSee.

"We always appreciate the research community's hard work to help improve online privacy and security practices", a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo. However, AppSee claims that GoPuff should have informed its end-users way beforehand that its data was recorded and sent to us for analytical and performance optimisation purposes.

There's good news and bad news. On questioning the developer, GoPuff immediately updated its policy and mentioned the same. The Google Play policy mandates that the app must disclose how it collects user data. The app had no mention of this functionality in its privacy policy.