Are Facebook, Google truly spying on you? Here’s a new clue

Tech users are now growing increasingly worried over who monitors their private conversation and activities online.

This sums the upsurge of distrust in tech giants, experts say.

A mobile security company, however, said it has carried out a research investigation that broke one of the most popular tech myths that tech giants are listening to our conversations.

Facebook and Google are popular among tech companies alleged to be ‘eavesdropping’ on its users to target them with adverts.

The most common are suspicions that Facebook listens to its users’ conversations even though the company and its former employees have repeatedly denied such allegations over the years.

This theory appears the most persistent discourse in the tech world.

Last year, Facebook chief, Mark Zuckerberg, issued another strong denial when he was asked if this was happening as part of his testimony before the US Senate.

But users are yet to shake off how ads of exact items they previously discussed or mentioned appear to them online almost instantly.

Conspiracy Theory?

The conspiracy theory suggests that Facebook listens to users through their cell phone microphones in order to collect information with which to serve them ads.

Cheta Nweze, a security analyst, said the capacity to monitor the conversation of every human being who is connected to the internet ”simply does not exist yet”.

There are 3.26 billion people using social media on mobile devices globally in January 2019, with a growth of 297 million new users representing a year-on-year increase of more than 10 per cent, according to Digital 2019 reports.

“You will need teraflops of server space to be able to monitor everybody online in real-time,” Mr Nweze explained.

“Then you will need millions and millions of terabyte of computing power to be able to analyze it in real-time so it is not possible just yet.”

Busting the myth?

On Thursday, the BBC reported that cyber security-specialists at Wandera have emulated the online experiments and found no evidence that phones or apps were secretly listening to our conversations.

According to the report, the researchers put two phones – one Samsung Android phone and one Apple iPhone – into an “audio room”.

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For 30 minutes they played the sound of cat and dog food adverts on loop. They also put two identical phones in a silent room.

The security specialists kept apps open for Facebook, Instagram, Chrome, SnapChat, YouTube, and Amazon with full permissions granted to each platform, the report explained.

They then looked for ads related to pet food on each platform and webpage they subsequently visited. They also analysed the battery usage and data consumption on the phones during the test phase.

They repeated the experiment at the same time for three days and noted no relevant pet food adverts on the “audio room” phones and no significant spike in data or battery usage.

“We observed that the data from our tests is much lower than the virtual assistant data over the 30-minute time period, which suggests that the constant recording of conversations and uploading to the cloud is not happening on any of these tested apps”, said James Mack, systems engineer at Wandera. “If it was, we’d expect data usage to be as high as the virtual assistants’ data consumption.”

How then does Facebook hyper-targeted adverts work?

Apart from Wandera, other technical investigations have confirmed that Facebook apps ”do not secretly turn on your phone mic to listen to your conversations”.

This leaves us with a long list of questions such as: how does Facebook know to show ads for a specific product right after you talk about it?

“They use keyword analysis,” said Mr Nwanze, lead partner at SBM Intelligence, a research and geopolitical intelligence platform.

He said there are certain keywords that give Artificial Intelligence an idea of ”the kind of things we could like”.

“They take stock of certain words you search. Because most of these tech companies’ revenue model is from ads, they tailor ads for you. The way they make their money is click per pay not just by streaming ads to you that is why in your device, the AIs is on constantly picking on keywords.”

A publication by Electronic Frontier Foundation last April also suggested that rather than listen through your mic, ”Facebook tracks us through the following ways including”:

”Through Like buttons across the web, whether or not you are logged in or even have a Facebook account; maintaining shadow profiles on people who don’t use Facebook; logs Android users’ calls and texts.

”Tracking your location and serves ads based on where you are, where you live, and where you work; tracking your in-store purchases to link the ads you see online with the purchases you make offline; watching the things you start writing but don’t post to track your self-censorship etc.”

Social media monitoring

The social media has become a fertile ground for initiating a social change in opinions, perceptions, and worldview. It also facilitates the creation of ideas and the sharing of information.

One of the features that make social media surreptitiously attractive is its wide-range of accessibility, usually anonymously to a large extent. This ultimately makes it easy to monitor the activities of persons.

Social media monitoring is a process of using social media channels to track, gather and mine the information and data of certain individuals or groups.

This has increasingly become a source of worry as this feature can easily be abused.

Some countries have ordered its security agencies to carry out massive surveillance on its citizens’ social media accounts, raising serious concerns over free speech, racial and religious profiling, and privacy.

In the US, security agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security collect and analyse content from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites of all immigrants in the country—even green card holders and naturalised U.S. citizens.

How to avoid being monitored online

PREMIUM TIMES analysis last December revealed seven people and or institutions most likely to monitor you online.

To avoid being monitored online, Mr Nweze, the social analyst said you should do the following:

· Try not to accept cookies and if you do, you clear your cache on a regular basis because that’s where your preferences are stored locally and can be uploaded later.

· Don’t give away personal information.

· Preferably, avoid using google chrome browsers.

· It’s safer to use Brave or Opera browsers.

Generally, be tactful about what you say and do online.

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