So It Turns Out Mobile Phones And Laptops Are Spying On Us

Here's how to protect yourself

So It Turns Out Mobile Phones And Laptops Are Spying On Us

If you're reading this, your exact whereabouts, personal information and physical features are being tracked.

Such is the state of modern technology.

Every mobile device and laptop has effectively become a means for your data to be monitored and tracked, with only certain lines of code keeping your secrets safe.

Director of Computer Science and Engineering at UNSW Professor Richard Buckland told Triple M that anyone with a laptop or mobile phone needs to take precautions.

And while social media sites such as Facebook have denied using microphones on devices as a part of their advertising campaigns, that doesn't mean that devices aren't susceptible to being compromised.

"Your laptop is constantly gathering data on what you're doing," Professor Buckland said.

"The webcam is constantly able to look at you - whether the computer is aware of it or not.

"Information is always there, but we just trust that the computer isn't recording it."

If you have a standard laptop, your webcam is almost constantly trained on you. And it's the same with cameras on mobile phones. 

This has led to some people choosing to put a cover - as simple as a piece of sticky tape or a post-it note - over the webcam on the laptop to ensure that it is not pulling images or information except when requested.

However, even this method is liable to compromise, given the rise of facial recognition technology which may impact on how opaque the camera cover needs to be to completely protect the user.

Professor Buckland also says that this practice shouldn't just be limited to just covering the webcam, but the microphone as well.

"Just like the webcam, the microphone is always listening," he said.

The issue with the microphone is possibly even more concerning than the webcam. 

People have recently raised concerns that they believe their devices are listening in to private conversations to target advertising, however the fact that the microphone is always running can have even more sinister consequences.

"The annoying thing about the microphone is that every key on a keyboard sounds different," Professor Buckland said.

"So someone could hack into your device and then have access to any information you type simply by deciphering the keyboard sounds."

In terms of smart home technology such as Alexa or Google Home, Professor Buckland said that the issue lies not so much in the fact that these devices are always listening - after all, that is what they're designed to do.

Instead, it's the fact that they are so susceptible to hacking, and once a hacker manages to crack the device, it's open slather to all of your other personal information.

"There's what Google is supposed to be doing, and then there's what someone would do who has gained control of the device," Professor Buckland said.

"You cannot assume that anything you do is private."

In grim news, the options are limited when it comes to protecting yourself from your mobile phone.

"In fact, even taking the battery out of mobile phones isn't enough to stop it because they've made iPhones so the battery cannot be removed," Professor Buckland said.

"Some systems still work even when the phone is switched off, and there are circumstances where the phone can appear to be off or asleep but in fact, it is still functioning.

"That's the trade off - better technology, but a total loss of privacy."