Then, like cartoon toys scrambling to get back in the right order before their owner throws on the light, the ads finalize their positions before your customized results page loads on your screen. Generally, your first four search results — what you see before having to scroll down — are all paid advertisements. For those over 35, that percentage grows proportionally higher. To maximize this percentage, Google is always testing to find ad visuals that blend in best with organic results.
Once you click on an ad, your information passes through to search engine marketers, where it is forever stored in an AdWords account, never to be erased. Here is a complete checklist of everything Google knows about you — thereby all the ways you are tracked — as of December This profile contains:. In , we will verge on understanding the ultimate marketing technology: Cross-Device attribution. Using this technology, ads will follow individuals seamlessly — not only across channels e.
Depending on your brand loyalty, for example, your TV will emit a hyper-frequency during certain commercials. Undetectable by your obsolete human ear, this signal can only be picked up by a nearby cell phone. Developers of various applications and services, a vast majority of them free, invest a lot of time and effort into developing, running, and maintaining them. So, how are the people who create and maintain these apps making money? The answer is simple: in-app advertising and user-tracking data collection.
To display ads inside an app, you need to know the different types of audiences who use your app and be able to distinguish between them by collecting information about them when they use your app, know the businesses who are interested in advertising their services to the different user demographics, and be able to match the right ads with the right audiences.
While this is certainly possible, it is especially difficult to manage for small-time app developers who will have to do this while also staying on top of maintaining their apps, developing new features, and various other developer-related tasks. To make this easier, developers use third-party trackers who know other businesses interested in mobile advertising and mediate between them and the app developers who want to monetize their apps through ads.
Developers embed pieces of software developed by these services inside their apps which allows them to collect information about the users and use it to display targeted advertisements. Third-party trackers inherit the set of application permissions requested by the host app, allowing them access to a wealth of valuable user data, often beyond what they need to provide the expected service.
This lack of transparency is not helped by the fact that they regularly end up in the news for sharing or selling large amounts of mobile tracking data. These patterns could allow a government analyst to find cases in which people used their phones in an unusual way, such as taking particular privacy precautions.
- The Washington Post
A few examples of things that a government might try to figure out from data analysis: determining whether people know each other; detecting when one person uses multiple phones or switches phones; detecting when groups of people are traveling together or regularly meeting one another; detecting when groups of people use their phones in unusual or suspicious ways.
It is not yet available for iOS. Lumen helps users identify these third-party services in their apps by monitoring network activities of the apps that are running on your phone. It also tells you what kind of data is collected by them and organization is collecting the data. Lumen brings the much-needed transparency into the equation and having this information is half the battle, but users need to have some sort of control over this behaviour. Lumen also gives them the option to block those flows. This feature gives the users granular control over the network communications of their apps and helps them prevent unwanted tracking by third-party services.
Blokada is another such tool for Android devices that efficiently blocks ads and trackers. It is also free and an open source project. Concerned about your Google data? You better be! Downgrade Attack: This is a form of cryptographic attack on an electronic system or communications protocol that makes it abandon a high-quality mode of encrypted connection in favour of an older, lower-quality mode of encrypted connection that is typically provided for backward compatibility with older systems.
An example of such a flaw is SS7 hack. An SS7 attack is an exploit that takes advantage of a weakness in the design of SS7 Signalling System 7 to enable data theft, eavesdropping, text interception and location tracking. The mobile operators themselves have the ability to intercept and record all of the data about visited websites, who called or sent SMS to whom, when, and what they said. They turn ril. Your Internet provider offers up DNS as part of your service, but your provider could also log your DNS traffic — in essence, recording your entire browsing history.
This information might be available to local or foreign governments through official or informal arrangements.
Also, IMSI catchers described above can be used by someone physically nearby you to intercept communication packets. Encryption technologies have been added to mobile communications standards to try to prevent eavesdropping. But many of these technologies have been poorly designed or unevenly deployed, so they might be available on one carrier but not another, or in one country but not another. Hackers perform communication-based attacks SS7 attack on the network company hence the user itself cannot stop the attack. But there are some points to keep in mind in order to minimize the effect of this attack.
The safest practice is to assume that traditional calls and SMS text messages have not been secured against eavesdropping or recording. Even though the technical details vary significantly from place to place and system to system, the technical protections are often weak and can be bypassed.
The Problem with Mobile Phones
The situation can be different when you are using secure communications apps to communicate whether by voice or text , because these apps can apply encryption to protect your communications. This encryption can be stronger and can provide more meaningful protections. The level of protection that you get from using secure communications apps to communicate depends significantly on which apps you use and how they work. One important question is whether a communications app uses end-to-end encryption to protect your communications and whether there is any way for the app developer to undo or bypass the encryption.
Phones can get spywares, viruses and other kinds of malware malicious software , either because the user was tricked into installing malicious software, or because someone was able to hack into the device using a security flaw zero day in the existing device software. These sneaky apps can be used by loved ones, family members, suspicious employer or even by law enforcement agencies.
It can be sent as a tweet, a taunting text message or an innocent looking email — any electronic message to convince the user to open the link.
From there, the malware automatically determines the type of device, then installs the particular exploit remotely and surreptitiously. Unlike desktop users, mobile users cannot see the entire URL of a site they are visiting.
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This paves the way for digital crooks to use phishing attacks against unknowing users. Phishers often prey on the natural fears of targets in order to get them to act quickly, and without caution. These phishing messages will urge you to hurriedly sign into your account or confirm details without checking the source — and just like that, the scammer now has what they need to steal your money. Another trend is that a number of phishing sites are utilizing HTTPS verification to conceal their deceitful nature.
Realizing this, hackers use sites like letsencrypt. On Android, the number jumps to 20 unique apps. Often, this kind of software is used by people who want to monitor the activity of their spouses, providing an easy way to trace every movement. These apps can also track your GPS location, instant messages and texts, upload copies of the photos you take, spy on conversations held through other apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Hike, Skype, Viber, WeChat, etc.
All of the data collected by these apps is encrypted and sent to a password protected web portal where the spy can review it. This technique has been used by governments and spy agencies also by employing spy applications from various private surveillance companies to spy on people through their own phones and has created anxiety about having sensitive conversations when mobile phones are present in the room. Have you noticed any calls or SMSs made or sent from your phone that you know were not made by you?
In this article, we will focus on International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers, or IMSI-catchers, as the prevailing method of cellphone surveillance. Some parts of the world do not have the communications infrastructure to necessitate a device such as an IMSI-catcher, but the IMSI-catcher is used in many places with access to advanced cellular communications like 3G. These devices were originally developed to covertly collect intelligence information from encrypted phone traffic.
Like many similar technologies, IMSI-catchers have been adopted by local law enforcement for use against the public. These devices are available in the public and private sector and offer varying levels of access and surveillance. Like many telecommunications innovations before it, this device was originally invented for intelligence organizations and militaries. The StingRay has since found use in departments of local law enforcement for the purpose of monitoring the cellular traffic of nearby citizens.
IMSI-catchers like the Stingray can be used to outfit buildings and vehicles with advanced surveillance capabilities. The StingRay can be utilized in squad cars, undercover vehicles, helicopters, planes, and even remotely controlled drones. In comparison to GSM monitoring, these forms of tracking are not necessarily as useful for government surveillance. This is because they work best at short distances and require prior knowledge or observation to determine what MAC address is built into a particular person's device. However, these forms of tracking can be a highly accurate way to tell when a person enters and leaves a building.
Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on a smartphone can prevent this type of tracking, although this can be inconvenient for users who want to use these technologies frequently. Wi-Fi network operators can also see the MAC address of every device that joins their network, which means that they can recognize particular devices over time, and tell whether you are the same person who joined the network in the past even if you don't type your name or e-mail address anywhere or sign in to any services.
On a few devices, it is physically possible to change the MAC address so that other people can't recognize your Wi-Fi device as easily over time; on these devices, with the right software and configuration, it would be possible to choose a new and different MAC address every day, for example. On smartphones, this commonly requires special software such as a MAC address-changing app. Currently, this option is not available for the majority of smartphone models.
Apps can ask the phone for this location information and use it to provide services that are based on location, such as maps that show you your position on the map. Some of these apps will then transmit your location over the network to a service provider, which, in turn, provides a way for other people to track you. The app developers might not have been motivated by the desire to track users, but they might still end up with the ability to do that, and they might end up revealing location information about their users to governments or hackers.
Some smartphones will give you some kind of control over whether apps can find out your physical location; a good privacy practice is to try to restrict which apps can see this information, and at a minimum to make sure that your location is only shared with apps that you trust and that have a good reason to know where you are. In each case, location tracking is not only about finding where someone is right now, like in an exciting movie chase scene where agents are pursuing someone through the streets.
It can also be about answering questions about people's historical activities and also about their beliefs, participation in events, and personal relationships. For example, location tracking could be used to try to find out whether certain people are in a romantic relationship, to find out who attended a particular meeting or who was at a particular protest, or to try and identify a journalist's confidential source.
A tool called CO-TRAVELER uses this data to find relationships between different people's movements to figure out which people's devices seem to be traveling together, as well as whether one person appears to be following another. There's a widespread concern that phones can be used to monitor people even when not actively being used to make a call. As a result, people having a sensitive conversation are sometimes told to turn their phones off entirely, or even to remove the batteries from their phones.
The recommendation to remove the battery seems to be focused mainly on the existence of malware that makes the phone appear to turn off upon request finally showing only a blank screen , while really remaining powered on and able to monitor conversations or invisibly place or receive a call. Thus, users could be tricked into thinking they had successfully turned off their phones when they actually hadn't.
Such malware does exist, at least for some devices, though we have little information about how well it works or how widely it has been used. Turning phones off has its own potential disadvantage: if many people at one location all do it at the same time, it's a sign to the mobile carriers that they all thought something merited turning their phones off. An alternative that might give less information away is to leave everybody's phone in another room where the phones' microphones wouldn't be able to overhear the conversations.
Phones that are used temporarily and then discarded are often referred to as burner phones or burners. People who are trying to avoid government surveillance sometimes try to change phones and phone numbers frequently to make it more difficult to recognize their communications. They will need to use prepaid phones not associated with a personal credit card or bank account and ensure that the phones and SIM cards were not registered with their identity; in some countries these steps are straightforward, while in others there may be legal or practical obstacles to obtaining anonymous mobile phone service.
First, merely swapping SIM cards or moving a SIM card from one device to another offers minimal protection, because the mobile network observes both the SIM card and device together. In other words, the network operator knows the history of which SIM cards have been used in which devices, and can track either individually or both together.
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Second, governments have been developing mobile location analysis techniques where location tracking can be used to generate leads or hypotheses about whether multiple devices actually belong to the same person. There are many ways this can be done. For example, an analyst could check whether two devices tended to move together, or whether, even if they were in use at different times, they tended to be carried in the same physical locations. A further problem for the successful anonymous use of telephone services is that people's calling patterns tend to be extremely distinctive.
For example, you might habitually call your family members and your work colleagues. Even though each of these people receive calls from a wide range of people, you're likely the only person in the world who commonly calls both of them from the same number. So even if you suddenly changed your number, if you then resumed the same patterns in the calls you made or received, it would be straightforward to determine which new number was yours. Remember that this inference isn't made based only on the fact that you called one particular number, but rather on the uniqueness of the combination of all the numbers that you called.
Indeed, The Intercept reported that a secret U. The document describes the Hemisphere database a massive database of historical call records and how the people who run it have a feature that can link burner phones by following the similarity of their call patterns. The document refers to burner phones as "dropped phones" because their user will "drop" one and start using another one—but the database analytics algorithms can draw the connection between one phone and another when this happens, so long as both were used to make or receive calls to similar sets of phone numbers.
Together, these facts mean that effective use of burner phones to hide from government surveillance requires, at a minimum: not reusing either SIM cards or devices; not carrying different devices together; not creating a physical association between the places where different devices are used; and not calling or being called by the same people when using different devices.
This isn't necessarily a complete list; for example, we haven't considered the risk of physical surveillance of the place where the phone was sold, or the places where it's used, or the possibility of software to recognize a particular person's voice as an automated method for determining who is speaking through a particular phone.
The Global Positioning System GPS lets devices anywhere in the world figure out their own locations quickly and accurately. GPS works based on analyzing signals from satellites that are operated by the U. In fact, the GPS satellites only transmit signals; the satellites don't receive or observe anything from your phone, and the satellites and GPS system operators do not know where any particular user or device is located, or even how many people are using the system. This is possible because the individual GPS receivers like those inside smartphones calculate their own positions by determining how long it took the radio signals from different satellites to arrive.
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Usually, this tracking is done by apps running on a smartphone. They ask the phone's operating system for its location determined via GPS. Then the apps are able to transmit this information to someone else over the Internet. There are also tiny GPS-receiving devices that can be surreptitiously hidden in someone's possessions or attached to a vehicle; those receivers determine their own location and then actively retransmit it over a network, usually the mobile phone network.
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