Your smartphone spies on you without your knowledge and it’s scary

A new study looked at the amount of information collected by smartphones. Using geolocation alone, two researchers were able to discover information such as health status, religion and even ethnicity of users.

Virtual reality games, dating apps, mapping, weather… All these mobile apps require access to your location data, but they actually collect a lot more information. Two researchers, from the University of Bologna and University College London, have just published a study on the private information of users which can only be inferred by geolocation.

A group of 69 volunteers installed an application called TrackAdvisor that tracks their movements and created specifically for the study. It collected more than 200,000 locations in 2,500 locations. TrackAdvisor was able to infer more than 5,000 personal information. Volunteers could note whether these inferences were fair and personal. The researchers discovered a great deal of information on the participants’ health, socio-economic status, ethnicity and religion.

Artificial intelligence to analyze data

“Through machine learning techniques, this data provides sensitive information such as users’ home, habits, interests, demographics and user personality information.” said the Italian researcher Mateo Benni.

This is the first study of this magnitude. In 2019, the Kotaku website was interested in the data of 10 volunteers collected by Niantic, developer of mobile augmented reality games like Pokémon Go. Their conclusions were similar at the time, but this new study is much more precise, thanks to artificial intelligence. To counter this invasion of privacy, researchers envision a system designed to alert users when they visit places such as hospitals, or that blocks the collection of data from third parties.

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