14 News Special Report: Spying Phone

14 News Special Report: Spying Phone
Updated: Jul. 2, 2018 at 12:21 PM CDT
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TRI-STATE (WFIE) - Do you ever get the feeling someone is listening?

You're talking to a friend, then random but matching ads pop up on your screens.

As Jackie Monroe found out in a 14 News investigation, it's not random. It's evidence of  "leaky apps."

Jackie asked members of our news team to take part in an experiment while sitting around a conference room table.

With cell phones out, they planned a pretend camping trip - then waited.

Baldwin Wallace University professor Dr. Brian Krupp and his team have been researching what happens to your information when it leaves your phone.

He says many app platforms are using your location, your microphone, your photos, and your contacts - all with your permission.

Here's the white lie. Most apps collect far more data than you expect and sell the extra information to data brokers.

That's how ads for camping supplies and bug spray show up in ads and emails, minutes after we breathed the words.

Jackie started getting dozens of ads for camping related products "recommended for her" within an hour of talking about camping within ear-shot of her cell phone with all the microphone permissions turned on.

"The more the platforms know about you, the more specific they can be about your profile, and that's more valuable to advertisers," said Dr. Krupp. "Instead of putting up a billboard on a highway, data brokers can tell advertisers they can target specific types of people who may like their product."

Dr. Krupp and his team have created a tool to tell you what kind of data is being sent. It's in final stages of development and could be released this winter.

Even then, he says, the real solution will only come when people demand more transparency from companies like Apple, and when they insist those companies give them better control of their personal information.

As for the 14 News "camping trip," the pretend plan was to head to North Dakota. If that doesn't work out, those data brokers seem to think we'd enjoy Idaho and applesauce in on-the-go packaging for wherever adventure takes us.

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