Survey finds 85% of smartphone users believe they’re being spied on by a mobile app

Posted on Oct 7, 2020 by Caleb Chen
Survey finds 85% of smartphone users believe they're being spied on by a mobile app

A new survey by WhistleOut provides some numbers to back up a growing sentiment: That an app on your smartphone is spying on you right this second while you read this article. The latest numbers from the smartphone industry estimates that the average smartphone user has between 60 and 90 apps. Additionally, the average smartphone user spends 77% of their time on their three most favorite apps and 75% of downloaded apps sit unused. The app that is actually spying on the user could just as easily be a seldom used app as a well used app such as Facebook or Instagram. The survey also narrowed down on the reason that users feel such distrust for the apps on their phones. WhistleOut stated:

“Almost two-thirds in our study (65%) claim they’ve had an ad for a specific product they’ve talked about, but never searched for online.”

WhistleOut also had survey respondents identify which app they thought was spying on them and the results are shown in the infographic below.

Some apps on your phone could be spying on your activity, with permission

This spying could be as targeted as turning on your camera or microphone to record video or audio and send it back for examination – as an ongoing privacy lawsuit against Facebook alleges. Or, it could be as simple as spying in the name of analytics and bug tracking that was actually agreed to upon installation. Whether this type of spying would count as illegal in a court of law is unlikely, especially given the wide dearth of federal privacy protections in the Untied States. In fact, spying through mobile apps is an established way that the US government is tracking users. This is due to the fact that many mobile apps include third party software development kits (SDKs) that essentially turn the app into a spy for said third party. The most famous third party SDK might be the Facebook SDK which has caused public grief for third party apps such as Zoom. On the other hand, an SDK developed by a government contractor is reportedly included in hundreds of popular apps to “legally” spy on you, but we still aren’t sure which ones they are.

85% may seem like a high number, but remember that WhistleOut didn’t expressly define spying and was instead measuring sentiment. However, it’s important to note that even if the spying is agreed to under the privacy policy and technically legal, that doesn’t mean it isn’t spying. What this survey does is really highlight the state of skepticism of the average tech user: The wave of sentiment is changing and the hive mind’s need for privacy is growing.

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