Smartphone Apps Spy on Users through Inaudible Signals

By | August 14, 2017

The Smartphones app which is being launched at the rate of ten per second on the Play Store have been spying on the users, lately according to a study conducted by Technische Universitat, Germany. The Researchers have discovered around 234 Android apps which listen to the beacons without the knowledge of the users. They have found these ultrasonic beacons in round 4 of the total 35 stores, visited in the European cities. These beacons allow the app developing companies to pick the inaudible signals from the phones, televisions and they even can establish what the app users are viewing. These signals can then be used for advertising based on the location and the interests.

Inaudible Signals

They enable the companies even to track the movements of the locations where the signals are embedded and also to learn about the devices they use by openly eavesdropping on the signals. The phenomena of catching these inaudible signals can de-anonymize the Bitcoin users, which is dangerous as the relationship between the Bitcoin address and the identity can be revealed easily through the signals during the payment. The research team has started investigating after Silver Push, an advertising company started using the smartphones to detect these signals while their clients were watching an advertisement.

“They wanted to find out what the user is watching on TV so they embedded a short ultrasound signal that consisted of five different frequencies,” Erwin Quiring, one of the research paper’s principal authors, told Techworld.

“By doing so the device was listening in the background, so they could find out what commercials a mobile device user was watching just by finding these beacons on TV commercials.”

As the research started, the researchers also analyzed around 1.3 million Android applications that have the ability to detect the beacons based on the frequencies of the sounds. Two of these 234 applications which use the beacons, one or two of them are downloaded around 1-5 million times. SilverPush has inscribed the ultrasonic sound reading ability as a part of the software development kit so that the firms like Krispy Kreme and McDonald’s indulge the ultrasound technology in the apps.

Similarly, Shopkick, a company has deployed this technology to offer rewards to the users when they enter the shop. Listening to the beacons, by the loudspeakers that are situated at the entrance, they allow the app to determine if the user entered into the star with a precision greater than the GPS tracking.