Is Your Phone Spying on You?

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on March 9, 2015, Thoughts

Personal privacy and freedom of information have been big issues of late, and with the growing number of smart phones on the UK market, our question is whether or not you, as a smart phone user, should be concerned. An estimated two thirds of people in the UK own a smart phone, and given that your phone probably contains an awful lot of data, there are solid reasons to be concerned about privacy of information. So we’re here today to give you the scoop on smart phone spying, and whether you should be worried…

Is Your Phone Spying?

The short answer to the question is yes. Your smart phone is certainly spying on you. This is for two simple reasons. Firstly, every call you make, message you send, app you download, or picture you take is stored on your device. That means that should your mobile get into the wrong hands then that information also, by default, falls into the wrong hands.

Not only that though, but every time you download a new app onto your phone you’re asked to give that app permission to do certain things. Most of us check the terms and conditions box and move on, not bothering to read or think about what we’re being asked to do. The result of this is that many apps are tracking your location, your movements, and even sending your information to other parties (generally advertisers).

Um… Should That Worry Me?

This information might not be as scary as it sounds though. Think of it this way: Google Maps would have a tough time giving you directions if you refused to allow the app to know and log your location. That doesn’t mean that your mobile is telling the world where you are, it’s simply a necessary function for the app to do what it needs to do.

Even selling your info to advertisers might not be as bad as you think. In most cases this happens because you download a free or Lite version of a paid app, and the programme is then funded by advertisers. Your info is used to match good advertisements to your buying habits, rather than to find out what your bank account number is.

For the most part (and assuming you’re not doing anything terribly illegal) the average person has little to worry about when sharing this kind of data with apps, or even with advertisers. The chances of this information being used against you are pretty small, and frankly, this is part of the small risk that you take in order to have the convenience of a smart phone and to make use of all its functions.

So, I’m Not Worried, Right?

Just because usually sharing your data is fine doesn’t actually mean that you shouldn’t have a few concerns. There are always going to be apps that phish for info, those that break laws, those that use your data in ways that you don’t approve of. So, having said that there’s little need to be worried (and you shouldn’t be that worried), maybe you should be a little careful. But what exactly does that mean?

Being Careful with Your Data

There are a few ways that you can ensure your smart phone use is as secure as possible (and no, you don’t need to use encrypted numbers, codes or throw away phones). The average user simply needs to be careful about what they’re agreeing to, and what they’re downloading. But let’s be a little more concrete about that.

Downloading big name apps (Facebook, Google Maps, names that you’re familiar with) for the most part is going to be fine. Downloading smaller apps may present more of a concern. Check and read the terms and conditions carefully, make a note of what information the app is asking to access, and think about it. Do you really need to give that game access to your location, for example? And if something makes you uncomfortable, then skip the download!

Users shopping outside of regular app stores (generally those with rooted or jail broken devices) should be especially careful about what they’re downloading. This is because apps in unregulated stores have not undergone the stricter procedures of being accepted for sale/distribution that those sold through Apple’s App Store or Google Play have.

If privacy is a particular concern for you, then you might want to be careful too about what information your phone stores. Most mobiles will allow you to set limits, so you could, for example, only store the last ten messages you received on your device, rather than hundreds. The same goes for calling history and emails. You might want to skip that banking app (that contains your account number), and maybe even apps like Amazon or eBay that may contain your credit card number. That’s not to say that those apps are dangerous, they’re generally not, but yes, it is possible for someone to get access to financial information by using them.

Now I’m Confused…

The long and short of the matter is that your smart phone is definitely spying on you, but that just means that it’s storing and using data about you. For most of us that’s the price we pay for using a smart phone. And in today’s world it’s pretty tough to avoid entering or using personal info if you choose to be online or to have a smart device.

Yes, you should be careful. Yes, you should set passwords and read terms and conditions and avoid any app that you think is asking for data that it doesn’t need. But in the long run there’s little to be paranoid about. Can people (whether that’s the bad guys or the government) get hold of your personal info if they want to? Probably, yes. But then your laptop, tablet, even gaming console are all mines of information too. Whether you like it or not, your info is out there.

Your smart phone is not a safe device, which is why criminals tend to use throw away phones rather than iPhones. But as an average user you should exercise caution, though there’s little need to be too worried about your phone. The only way to keep your info completely private is by not having a phone at all, and for most of us that’s a price that we’re just not willing to pay…

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