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KUTV.com | Stories - Good Question: Is My Cell Phone Spying On Me?
Wednesday, April 23 2014, 09:23 AM MDT
Good Question: Is My Cell Phone Spying On Me?
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Michelle Poe
Edited by Ryan Malavolta
Photography by Patrick Fitzgiven, Mike Sadowski and Brian Morris
(KUTV) Keith Hamblin drives trucks for a living. To help him get around, Keith was considering downloading the Google Maps app onto his smart phone. When he saw all the permissions for which the app asked, Keith got concerned. The app requires that Keith agree to "allow the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation."

“They can turn on the microphone on your phone and listen to you anytime they want to. Why?" Keith said.

Other apps ask for permission to access your camera, and know your location. Keith wants to know, can his apps be spying on him? It's a good question.

We took Keith's question to Rob Gehl, professor of new media at the University of Utah. Gehl says that often, app permissions make sense when you take a minute to think about it. For example, the popular online shopping app from amazon.com requires permission to "use the camera at any time without your confirmation."  The app has a good reason to access the camera; it lets users scan barcodes while in store to see if the product is available for cheaper through amazon.com.

The Delta Airlines app requires access to "add calendar events and send email to guests without owner's knowledge." Those are potentially harsh words but they can be explained because the app adds flight itineraries to a user’s calendar and also emails the user when it's time to check in for a flight.

Then there's the Google Maps app that concerned Keith. Get Gephardt asked Google why they need to access a microphone for a mapping program. They said it allows users to use a speech function within the app that allows a user to speak the destination and then the app will route a course.

Still, Gehl suggests app users be on their guard. While most apps can legitimately explain the need for certain permissions unless a user knows and trusts the company that made the app, he suggests avoiding apps that ask for too much access.

“I think that people should read the permissions for sure," he said.  “When you add all the permissions together sometimes you get into some pretty scary situations where they're over reaching. They're asking for all sorts of information and you may not be able to trust them with that."

The Wall Street Journal did a study in 2012 in which they found that a lot of apps, even the legitimate ones, gather information about you. Using your location they can figure out what city you live in. With access to your calendar they can figure out what you do. Some apps even access your contacts and figure out who you know. Once gathered, that information is sold to other companies and advertisers. More: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704694004576020083703574602.html

If you have a Good Question for Matt: Gephardt@kutv.tv or (801) 839-1250

(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)
Good Question: Is My Cell Phone Spying On Me?

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