An article that presents the idea of beacon tracking and address the danger of processing voice data by hundred of apps.
There are plenty of privacy-invading marketing ploys to worry about in life. Some examples are in your face, some are more subtle. And a relatively new kind manages to be outright invisible.
In the most inconspicuous hustle of all, apps have increasingly incorporated ultrasonic tones to track consumers. They ask permission to access your smartphone microphone, then listen for inaudible “beacons” that emanate from retail stores, advertisements, and even websites. If you’re not paying attention to the permissions you grant, you could be feeding marketers information about your online browsing, what stores you go to, and what products you like and dislike without ever realizing it.
There are certainly legitimate uses of “ultrasonic cross-device tracking” technology. Some apps are part of rewards programs that automatically offer customers promotions when they visit particular stores. Others facilitate ticketing at events like sports games.
But plenty of apps deploy it without so clear a use case, at least as far as direct benefits for the person who downloads them. In fact, research presented last week at the IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy found 234 current Android applications that incorporate a particular type of ultrasonic listening technology. That doesn’t quite constitute widespread distribution, but the infrastructure to support it has landed in more and more apps every year. And there are many mainstream examples, like the Philippines versions of the McDonald’s and Krispy Kreme apps. That doesn’t mean these apps have the function turned on, necessarily, but they are ready to support it at any time.
Beacon technology is also showing up in more physical locations. While the researchers didn’t find any ultrasonic tones being broadcast out on a sampling of television programming from seven countries, they did find that four of the 35 retail stores they visited around Germany did have beacons installed. “It was really interesting to find beacons at the entrance of some stores in two German cities,” says Erwin Quiring, a privacy and Android security researcher who worked on the study. “It affects all of us if there’s some kind of privacy invasive technique we don’t know about and which runs silently on phones.”