We don’t really have any privacy, it seems, as researchers discovered hundreds of apps using ultrasonic sounds to track users.
This new anti-privacy technique used by numerous apps uses ultrasonic tones to track consumers, ZDNet reports. This sounds like it comes from some kind of Sci-Fi novel, but unfortunately, it’s the truth of the world we live in.
The technology is called ultrasonic cross-device tracking and it works by emitting high-frequency tones in advertisements and billboards, web pages, and even brick-and-mortar retailers and sports stadium. The apps you have on your phone may have access to your microphone and can pick up these tones, using all the collected data to create your profile – where you’ve been, what you saw, what websites you visit and so on.
While this technology is just in the beginning stages, it is growing in popularity. Researchers discovered 234 Android apps that come packed with the ability of listening to these ultrasonic tones without the user even knowing this.
Many of the apps have thousands of millions of downloads, including games. Some of the apps that have this capability are Pinoy Henyo, McDonalds, or Krispy Kreme, and it’s unknown how these companies use the collected data.
A long list of privacy threats
What is known, however, is that the trove of data collected in this method can be used to link your habits to your identity. If you’re watching movies, checking out websites or listening to radio, these apps will know and they’ll know who you are as well. To put a creepy twist to the situation, researchers note that “an adversary can precisely link the watching of even sensitive content such as adult movies or political documentations to a single individual – even at varying locations.”
This same technology can be used to de-anonymize users of bitcoin, which is obviously bad since the digital currency is known and loved for the anonymity it provides. Similarly, this can also work against those using the Tor network.
“As mobile phone capabilities increase, and technologies that can communicate with such devices proliferate, it is only natural that more creative ways will be used to communicate and extract information from phones,” said Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault.
“However, the fundamental issue isn’t so much the advent of technologies such as ultrasonic sounds; but rather the willingness of users to continually give extended permissions to apps on their devices. There should be no reason a game or a novelty app should need access to core phone features such as microphone, speaker, phone, and text messages – yet this happens on a frequent basis. As long as this continues to happen, mobile devices will be the enemy of users privacy,” he adds.