According to researches, tons of Android apps could be tracking users through inaudible sounds emitted by devices close by. Researchers have found that technology that lets devices communicate with one another for tracking via ultrasonic tones on over 200 Android apps.
TVs, websites, billboards as well as shops can emit the high frequency sounds that humans cannot hear but are picked up by the apps. This signals if a person has engaged with an advertisement by watching it, or visited a store and for long.
Apps featuring the tech have those from McDonald’s and Krispy Kreme. Major firms might be making use of it in order to track customers’ location and behaviors on and off their devices, without they knowing about it. According to researchers:
“An adversary can monitor a user’s local TV viewing habits, track their visited locations and deduce their other devices. They can gain a detailed, comprehensive user profile with a regular mobile application and the device’s microphone.”
The tracking method has spiked in popularity nowadays. Couple of years back only 5 apps in the Google Play store used the technology but now it is allegedly there in 234.
Other than tracking customers’ habits, the technology can be used to send them targeted adverts as well. Considering that the tool can connect location and habits with the device, it can be helpful to identify anonymous users, like those of Bitcoin and Tor.
Most of the apps don’t alert users that they are tracking them and only need them to follow users is permission to access the device’s microphone.
“The user just needs to install a regular mobile application that is listening to ultrasonic signals through the microphone in the background. Once the user has installed these applications on their phone, they neither know when the microphone is activated nor are they able to see what information is sent to company servers.”
As per Silverpush, the firm that came up with the listening tool, its technology is not being used now and it stopped supporting it back in 2015. Hitesh Chawla, founder of Silverpush, stated:
“We respect customer privacy and would not want to build our business foundation where privacy was questionable. Even when we were live, our software was not present in more than 10 to 12 apps. So there is no chance that our presence in 234 apps is possible. Every time a new handset gets activated with our software, we get a ping on our server. We have not received any activation for six months now.”