According to a study by NordVPN, there was a five percent increase in the number of monitoring apps installed on user’s devices last year. However, some users still suspect that their smartphones are spying on them even if they don’t have any monitoring apps installed on their devices.
This is actually true as virtual assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa listen to smartphone users all the time. This is because they need to constantly listen in order to be able to hear voice commands and assist users.
However, some of the things people say around their smartphones are being recorded for a company’s own benefit such as improving the quality of their services or for marketing purposes.
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Digital privacy expert at NordVPN, Daniel Markuson explained how virtual assistants function in a similar way to search engines in a press release, saying:
“When you ask Google Assistant or Siri to find something, this information is used for online advertising. It’s no different from typing something into Google Search. If you’re looking for car dealerships in your city, related ads will start chasing you across the internet. In a way, a virtual assistant is just another search engine.”
How to test if your smartphone is spying on you
According to NordVPN, the best way to test to see if your smartphone is helping marketers target you online is by setting a trap.
To do so, you’ll need to select a topic that can’t be associated with your personality and involves something you would never normally discuss. From here you’ll need to keep this topic in your head and avoid using your phone or other devices to search for information on it. Next you’ll have to come up with a list of keywords that could trigger search engines and talk out loud about the topic by yourself or with friends.
Now that the trap has been set, you will soon be able to see if any new ads have started targeting you on social media or on the sites you frequently visit online.
To avoid unwanted tracking by your smartphone and virtual assistants, Markuson recommends that users review their app permissions and turn off their device’s audio recording feature. As a final step, you can install a VPN on your smartphone to further protect your online privacy.