The Apps That Are Listening to You

An oft discussed hypothesis is that certain apps, usually Facebook, listens to and analyses your surroundings for ad targeting purposes. It has never been conclusively proven that Facebook does this, but there are plenty of people on the internet with anecdotal stories of ads appearing for products they’ve only discussed IRL. In iOS 14 Apple added indicators to highlight when an app is using the device’s microphone or camera. Since I have access to a decently sized collection of app privacy details I decided to have a look if any apps admit to this behaviour.

This is an extension of my previous work on analysing privacy on the app store, I’d recommend reading that post before this one.

In this post I am looking at apps that collect “Audio Data” under the “User Content” category for third party tracking use i.e. DATA_USED_TO_TRACK_YOU. Apple defines audio data as The user’s voice or sound recordings, thus it’s not definite if these apps listen to your microphone or use some other type of sound recording.

My data set contains 22 812 apps, of which about half have provided privacy details. Of these apps there are nine that confess to collecting audio data for third party tracking purposes:

Update History

Date Changes
2020-01-10 Initial publication
2020-01-17 Updated with larger data set
2020-04-27 Refreshed data