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It would appear that our smart phones are listening to what we say even when we are not using them. A recent article in Vice reported this somewhat disconcerting news. Generally, the voice assistants only spring to life when they hear the trigger phrase, “hey Siri” or “okay Google.” But other apps on your phones are also listening in on what you are saying even while not actively being used.

The author stumbled upon this aspect of smart phones after talking with a friend over drinks about recent trips to Japan and how they both wanted to go again. The next day they both received pop-up ads on Facebook for cheap flights to Japan. Coincidence? Unfortunately, it was not. The author then tried to confirm the phenomenon over the next few days by saying what he thought might be triggers several times each day.

As he said, the results were immediate. He began receiving ads for most of the items in his triggers and for a single conversation he had over cell phone data use. He spoke to Dr. Peter Hannay, a senior security consultant with Asterisk, who confirmed that many apps do access the microphone periodically. However, it is difficult to determine any patterns or exactly what is gathered because the data streams are encrypted.

He felt it was nothing a normal person need be worried about, comparing it to the days of tracking television viewing habits in order to entice companies to place ads on particular shows that matched their target demographics. Still, it is a bit creepy. In the days of Nielsen ratings, the participants either had a box connected to their TV or filled out viewing habit surveys so it was up front. Not anymore.

So, what it comes down to is that we as consumers and users of smart phones are the product to app developers who provide their software at no charge. We have written before about the need for these companies to generate revenue to pay for their staff, product development, product support, and so on. That revenue comes from marketing your personal information (demographics, browsing habits, and so on) to companies who find that you match the demographics of people who buy their stuff.

What’s the alternative? Pay for apps and carefully review their user agreements to see what that payment gives you in terms of privacy. Deny access to your microphone for apps with no reason to use it. They often ask during set up but not always. In the meantime, a quick search online turned up an article about disabling the microphone permissions for the Facebook app. The technique should work for other apps as well.

The CRIP.TO business model is built on a “pay for services used” approach so that we are never in a position to need to sell customer personal data to support operations. This desire not to use customer information goes so deep that our products and services don’t allow even us to know anything about you the customer aside from anonymous data that supports payment for service.

The CRIP.TO objective is to provide individuals, groups, and companies with the highest level of end-to-end encrypted secure communications available giving you the freedom to communicate fearlessly. You deserve nothing less.

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