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Practical Techie: Cast off fears about mobile phone spying

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Rumors and conspiracy theories constantly fly about like bats in the night through the powerful social media grapevine.

The recent buzz is that our mobile phones are secretly spying on us. Hmmm. Wish we all were that important!

The speculation was let loose when many smartphone users began to notice different colored dots appearing on their screens whenever they were connected in conversation or performing another task with the device such as travel photography.

Many thought that someone or somewhat was tracking their movements through GPS technology. Worst yet, listening in to their conversations.

DOTS — Green or red dots usually appear over the signal icon on the phone. This happens most frequently in the new iPhones, through the Safari browser which connects to the microphone or camera eye. Apple and Facebook explain it this way. They say that security features screen against any intrusion into these platforms. What does happen is the efficiency of algorithms.

Whenever keywords pop up somewhere in our iPhones, artificial intelligence detectors — not humans — register the user and sends ads about such themes. It is scary, but not as sinister as it may seem, unless a user is into military spying, kidnapping for ransom, bank robberies, or drug dealing. The green button on means the phone camera is in use. The red dot comes on when an app is active inside your device. If a dot goes on while the iPhone is not in use, that may be weird.

BUSINESS — As far as we know, it’s all about marketing, brands identity, merchandising… you know, the trappings of consumerism. So, it’s not a holy miracle if when we are chatting about acne problems on our skin, ads for medications suddenly begin to appear in our devices. Of course, if the algorithms detect some sort of shenanigans in our mobile usage, then only God knows what happens to our privacy.

Apple does admit that its matrix listens to Siri conversations for marketing optimizations. This might include very private medical information by a user. Amazon does likewise, with the Alexa platform. Google alleges that it’s so that Alexa can learn more about human speech patterns. We all pray that hackers or malware never get access to such personal data.

PRUDENCE — Of course, if one is very zealous about the data that’s moving through our smartphone, be very careful then of what information we put into the device. Also, any user can manually rescind access by Safari or any other browser, to the microphone or camera by going to the utilities setting. Amazon allows you to erase your Alexa recordings at will. In Facebook, turn off the recordings feature during live conversations.

Avoid storing private data such as medical information, personal finances, passwords, intimate images or videos, a depiction of your electronic signature, a detailed home address.

Also, don’t be tempted into using fingerprint identification to open your phone. It’s hackable.

Author Details
Author Rafael Matos is a veteran journalist, a professor of digital narratives and university mentor. He may be contacted at cccrafael@gmail.com.
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