Is Facebook's Android App Monitoring My Phone Calls?

Facebook's Android app seems to be monitoring whom I talk to on my phone. A few days after I've called somebody who wants to submit a paper to Fornvännen, or after I've texted the mom of one of Jrette's buddies, the web site will suddenly suggest, "Hey, maybe you might want to be Facebook buddies with this person you didn't even know was on Fb, and with whom you have no shared Fb contacts!". And there's that person.

It's possible, I guess, that this is actually set off by those people looking at my profile on Facebook. But it's happened a few times too many. I wonder...

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LinkedIn hasn't done this with phones (yet) (that I know of), but they do have a habit of rummaging through e-mail inboxes to determine that maybe you should be connected to some other person. Even when you have no contacts in common with that person. Even in circumstances where it's not entirely appropriate. For instance, I do field interviews for my undergraduate alma mater, and they usually contact me by e-mail. Official policy is that it's not appropriate for interviewer and interviewee to be connected via social media (it's OK if they connect after the admissions decision is made). LinkedIn has suggested as contacts several applicants (none successful) who have interviewed with me. In several cases, there is no other plausible connection between us.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

Eric, is this LinkedIn's Android app reading your email on your phone, or is it their web site exploring other open tabs in the browser on your laptop?

There is *definitely* some kind of monitoring in place on cell phone text messages. I have an iphone 4, and I noticed that I get advertisements from Google AdTrends, based on things I've never mentioned on the internet.

Example: I met a girl, started dating her, we didn't do any emails or connect on social media. She was Asian. Within days after exchanging texts, I started getting "Date Asian Women" ads all the time.

I have no idea how this information got from my text messages to the advertisers. It's happened other times, but this was the most obvious and definitely creeped me out.

When I check the privileges of the Facebook app in my Android phone, it can (among a _huge_ number of other things) "read your contacts", which is further explained as (crudely translated from Swedish): "Allows the app to read contact information stored in the phone, including information about how often you have called, emailed, or in any other way contacted specific persons..."

By Thomas Wolmer (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

Android is a Google product, and Google is a totally unregulated surveillance empire on a scale that makes NSA envious.

The entire purpose of everything in the Google ecosystem is to monetize every piece of information that any of its users generate. This includes using means such as keyword scanning Gmail (both the users and all their correspondents) and Google Voice (ditto, arguably illegal wiretap). The Facebook ecosystem has the same purpose and works the same way.

The solution is to exit those ecosystems, and LinkedIn as well.

You don't need them. You really don't. Whatever "benefits" they provide, are readily substituted by other types of services. There is no such thing as a free lunch or perpetual motion, and "free" email, phone numbers, and social media work the same way. "Free" means they spy on you relentlessly.

And "targeted ads" are only the tip of the iceberg. Big Data output is used and abused by Human Resources administrators in corporations to make hiring & firing decisions, used by credit bureaux to affect peoples' credit ratings, etc.

The whole "information economy" is a pernicious invasion of privacy and the freedoms that privacy protects.

Think of it this way: Knowledge is power. When _they_ know all about _you_, and _you_ know nothing about _them_, who has the power?

Martin @4: I don't know that they are reading other browser tabs, but this is their basic website (I don't have the app on my iPhone). They actively encourage their users to do this, and the reason it hasn't worked in my case is because my e-mail doesn't work the way they expect it to.

G @5: Basically, if you aren't paying for a social media product that you use, then you are the product. LinkedIn hasn't been pushing ads on me, other than via "recommended" "news" stories which I can freely ignore. I have never joined Facebook, so I don't know firsthand what they do, but they have a reputation for being particularly intrusive. After all, at least LinkedIn can claim to be connecting employers to potential employees, and charge the employers for those ads (they also offer a Premium service for which users must pay after a trial period; I haven't taken the trial offer yet). Facebook has no other obvious way to monetize their database than to push targeted ads.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Feb 2015 #permalink

OK, you mean that LinkedIn offers to comb through your address book. That's common. I thought you meant it read your mail without asking.

A wise man once suggested the key to happiness was to 'know yourself'. As the joke goes: If you need help contact the FBI. I guess the modern version is you cal the NSA or DHS.

Sadly, we might include: The credit card company, your cell service provider, and, based upon a friend receiving a string of advertising for supplies for babies after buying diapers for his sister's kid, your local grocery store.

Everyone seems to want to jump to conclusions about what I want to shop for, who I might want to meet, and where I want to go based upon a single purchase or contact. I really wish they would stop. It is mighty annoying.

Martin @7: No, it actually reads your e-mail, as far as I understand. At least one person I know dropped LinkedIn for that very reason: he is in the financial industry, and he can't have third parties looking at his confidential mail messages.

As I said, the reason LinkedIn hasn't been able to find any contacts for me that way is because my e-mail doesn't work the way LinkedIn expects it to. I did the experiment about a year ago. If it could read address books, it should have been able to read mine, since I use the standard Apple product.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Feb 2015 #permalink

I have been a bit worried about since they started to offer Google and Facebook login options and use so much Javascript. I would definitely recommend being cautious about installing apps for social media sites on your phone, and about giving them all the privileges which they request.

Eric @ 6: Yes, obviously true. And when any such entity becomes predatory in its ecosystem, its potential prey would do well to either avoid it or gang up on it and kill it off. For the majority of humans the solution is to just avoid it.

I've also received LinkedIn spam that had obviously harvested my email address from software used by people I know. What's evil about that spam is that it pretends to be written by the people themselves: "Hi, I want to chat with you on LinkedIn..." etc. It's straight-up fraud and misrepresentation.

The moral issue for society to deal with is, what are the legitimate limits ? Fine print does not an excuse make.

When Google Voice uses keyword recognition on both parties to a phone call, the unwitting party (who may not even know that s/he's calling a Google Voice user) is effectively being wiretapped, and there are court cases about this issue. The excuse that "it's just a machine" doing the eavesdropping doesn't cut it either, as we see from Google's employment of Ray Kurzweil on an unlimited budget, the goal is to make their machines conscious and smarter than humans.

If Facebook or LinkedIn harvested information that their users placed on the respective sites, that would be within bounds of fair. But harvesting information from users' activities outside of those sites is clearly foul, in the same manner as stalking. And harvesting information from other apps running on a user's machine is even more out-of-bounds, for example their address books. That sort of thing should be considered criminal hacking.

If it was discovered that one of these entities harvested information from peoples' word-processor documents and the like, that would be a whole new level of foul. And it's to be hoped that EFF and similar organizations would unleash an army of smart lawyers to sue the offenders until they died ignominious corporate deaths.

But I'd say we shouldn't wait for that threshold to be crossed. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is on record (and on video) saying that his goal is to snuggle right up to the line of "creepy" without going over. That statement by itself and the intent it expresses, goes over the line.

The same case goes for Mark Zuckerberg's numerous statements denigrating privacy, and Facebook's policies including the instance where they subjected their users to a psychology experiment that sought to affect their emotions, without informed consent. Once again, fine print does not an excuse make.

These people and their surveillance engines are deeply immoral by any reasonable and civilized standard. We should vote No by refusing to use (or be used by) their "services."

(OT: Breaking news)
-ISIS Just Executed More Than 150 Women In Fallujah
-Atheist guy in USA just killed three arab neighbours.
-Conservatives celebrate death of ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller, aid worker and ‘anti-Israel b*tch’
This is what happens when people lack critical thinking abilities, and de-personalise alleged enemies.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 12 Feb 2015 #permalink

(OT) Just in: China wind power capacity jumps to record high They sure take climate change seriously.
It occurs to me, once a communist government has been convinced climate change is real, it can simply do what is perceived as necessary for the state to survive.
Democracy is great, but often has a "planning horizon" limited to the next election (3-5 years).

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 13 Feb 2015 #permalink

#15 - They have no choice - the air quality from reliance on coal burning power stations is killing the country.

When I was in Tianjin in 1996, they were already acklowedged that they had a massive problem with air quality and other major environmental issues which directly impacted the people and the potential to directly impact the economy, and were well advanced with development of hydrothermal power, which put them at the forefront of that technology globally. They are now also leading the world in solar and wind. The Chinese play a long game - this has been in planning for a long time, and they are seeing it through.

You have stated very clearly the advantages of a one party system - when they decide they need to do something in the national interest that require big changes, they can implement them very quickly, not bogged down by all of the powerful vested financial interests that run American style 'democracy', but which is democracy in name only. The totally perverse outcome of this is that the ordinary people get better repesentation in China than they do in America, despite all of the political theory. I have been trying to get you to see that for at least 5 years now, Birger - you adhere to a political ideal which is not working because it has been totally hi-jacked by powerful and wealthy lobby groups - the plutocrats, and because you have correctly spotted the massive Achillies' heals of Western style democracy.

China is not longer a Communist state and has not been for a long while. They have a tiered system of representative government, just not the one you are used to - each delegate at every level is chosen by election by his peers to represent them. It is a system that is capable of working well.

The great flaw in the system, though, is entrenched institutionalised corruption at every level, which President Xi has very boldly set out to eradicate. I can only wish him well.

As early as 1996, the Mayor of Tangshan told me very frankly that China has "the rule of man" and it needs to make a major transition as soon as possible to "the rule of law."

This is what Mr Obama thinks of the rule of law - it is to be run over rough-shod whenever it suits the American Empire. This is diistressing, but I strongly recommend that you read it:

I say again that I am no apologist for the Chinese,and that I detest politics in general (which means I am not wedded from birth to one or another 'party', when the party system is simply unworkable and open to all kinds of manipulation by the rich and powerful. The very serious danger for China now is not the political system, but massive entrenched corruption.

Returning to the topic of Martin's post, I am not clear why he is getting worked up about personal privacy, when he personally outed me on his own blog some years ago without any prior consultation, when I was commenting using the pseudonym Sandgroper and had (I thought) every reason to expect him to respect my personal privacy.

One rule for you, and another rule for whoever you decide to out when it suits you - is that it, Martin? You having the issue of privacy yourself now in relation to concerns about yourself, I think it is reasonable for me to ask you why you did that, and why you see your own privacy as more deserving than my own,

Of course, you always have the option of deleting my comment, rather than answering honestly.

By John Massey (not verified) on 13 Feb 2015 #permalink

It is possible that an app on your android device monitors your contacts and texts, depending on how much priviledge it is given. This is not illegal, technically, as you have the right to deny the app of such priviledges. For example, you can turn off your mobile data when you do not want any app to use it, or uncheck any options that include "read ... data" or "read .. contacts ...", etc. This apps all aim to maximise abilities to help the users, but in so doing, they sometimes actually annoy us.

By Emmanuel Faleye (not verified) on 14 Feb 2015 #permalink

Perhaps it has alreday been said here but with a Facebook app on your mobile phone they will also collect data of where your are during 24 hoursx365 Days.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 14 Feb 2015 #permalink

It depends on how much access you allow an app whether or not it will collect data on your phone. Because when you install an app it asks access to your phone and in so doing you permit it permission and that means its totally legal.

John, I bear you no malice, but there is a major flaw with every one-party system:
It takes a long time for the leaders to acknowledge problems that are not directly related to the survival of the system.
I am not familiar with much Chinese history during the 1980s instead I will use the example of African one-party states and their inability to recognise the great threat posed by the HIV epidemic. Instead, efforts against the disease were left to non-government organisations since the governments' first reponse was to sweep the prolem under the carpet.
Without political pluralism, most of Africa lost a decade in the fight against the disease.
Another problem is exposing corruption in high places; it is no coincidence Gorbachev chose to ease the censorship in the very corrupt Soviet system (alas, it was replaed by an even more corrupt cleptocracy).

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 15 Feb 2015 #permalink

I agree that the invasiveness of social media apps such as Facebook in this case can be concerning but they could also be advantageous . If you setup the privileges that you allow the app correctly it could help you , for instance how my Facebook mobile app saves all the contact numbers of my "Online Friends" to my mobile phone book . It saves time and effort

By Dewaal du Ples… (not verified) on 17 Feb 2015 #permalink

It saves time and effort

I'm sure it can, but there are risks. There was a notorious case a few years ago in which a woman discovered her husband was having an affair when Facebook suggested that she should be friends with his mistress. That's a activity that, while legal in most countries, most people engaging in it would probably prefer to keep it quiet. There are other circumstances where you might not want somebody's phone number to appear in your address book; for instance, if the person is in the US and turns out to be a drug dealer, the police are going to take an interest in you when they find out you are in regular contact, whether or not you buy his product. User beware.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Feb 2015 #permalink

How did that work? Do I need to worry that everyone Facebook suggests that I should befriend is my wife's lover?

Probably not. The basic idea is that if Alice and Bob know each other, and Bob and Carol know each other, then the probability that Alice and Carol know each other is significantly higher than random chance. For instance, if Alice and I were classmates at university, then her university classmates were also my university classmates. In this case, husband and wife were presumably friends on Facebook, and likewise husband and mistress. But the wife apparently thought that there was no obvious connection between husband and mistress, and checked her out. I've forgotten details of the story, but my guess is that the wife would not have been as suspicious if the mistress had been a classmate, co-worker, or mutual friend. The wife may also have already had some reason to be suspicious that her husband was cheating.

So basically, if you actually do know the person, or you have some idea of how he knows your wife, there is no cause for worry. And of course the suggested friends may be friends of your other friends (I don't know if Facebook will tell you who the mutual friend is; depending on the person's profile settings, LinkedIn often will). But if you don't have any idea who he is, and he is appearing in a bunch of photos with her, you might want to ask her about it.

LinkedIn is more for professional networking, so there is no cause to worry there. You know certain people through your work, and she knows certain other people through her work. You will have met some but not all of her colleagues, and she will have met some but not all of yours.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Feb 2015 #permalink

I would be an extremely busy man if I was having affairs with even a small proportion of those Facebook contacts of mine that my wife is unfamiliar with. d-;

Birger #20 *sigh* - you are not subjecting me to malice. There are major flaws in every political system ever devised. This is because people who are motivated to exercise power over others are all arseholes, without fail. I have nothing but contempt for all of them. *All.* Am I finally getting through yet or not?

By John Massey (not verified) on 18 Feb 2015 #permalink