Tuesday, 17 July 2018 11:17

It's no joke – Aussies think their smartphones are ‘spying’ on them: survey

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Millions of Aussies are reportedly “freaked out” because they think their smartphones are eavesdropping on them – all because they are bombarded with advertising after having a chat about a product or service.

According to a newly published survey from comparison website finder.com.au, nearly one in five Australians think their smartphone is eavesdropping on them, and one in eight (12%) — or 2.1 million Australians — are “totally freaked out” by the fact that their devices appear to hear what they say, and 6% who believe it’s the trade-off for getting a free service like Facebook or YouTube.

In fact, the survey reveals that 18% of adults — equivalent to 3.2 million people — say they’ve had a conversation about a product or service, only to see an advertisement pop up about it on their social media feeds soon after.

Of the 2085 surveyed, Australians aged 18 to 23 (Generation Z) were the most paranoid, with 37% convinced their smartphones are listening in on their conversations and exploiting that knowledge.

The research found 33% of Generation Y suspect their devices are listening to them, compared to 12% of Generation X and 4% of Baby Boomers.

Angus Kidman, tech editor at finder.com.au, says there’s “no evidence that smartphones themselves are listening in”.

“If you’ve been chatting to your friend about a product and it suddenly pops up in an advertisement in your social media feed, the most logical explanation is you’re noticing it more,"he said.

“It’s human nature to look for links and patterns, when in actuality most of the time it’s just a coincidence. We often remember an ad when it seems topical, but forget all the times that we’ve scrolled past other ads and never even noticed it.”

But Kidman says that before you totally write this phenomenon off without apparent cause, consider your online history.

“It’s no coincidence that consumers are targeted by certain products in their Facebook and Instagram feeds – it’s insights gleaned from websites you visit and online retailers you shop with,” he said.

“There are plenty of apps monitoring and recording your every move, we just can’t blame the smartphone itself.”

And if you want to protect your privacy when using your smartphone here’s some suggestions from finder:

  • Adjust your settings and disable access to your microphone in your apps. You might need to toggle it on and off for when you do need to record sound for your Instagram story or Skype a relative, but at least when it’s not needed, you know it’s off.
  • Disable location services so apps can’t access your GPS location. Turn it back on when you’re using Google Maps or need to jump into an Uber.
  • You might still use Siri for a giggle, but if you genuinely don’t use your voice assistant, go into the setting and disable the voice detection.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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