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Is my phone listening in? On the feasibility and detectability of mobile eavesdropping

Kröger, Jacob Leon; Raschke , Philip

Besides various other privacy concerns with mobile devices, many people suspect their smartphones to be secretly eavesdropping on them. In particular, a large number of reports has emerged in recent years claiming that private conversations conducted in the presence of smartphones seemingly resulted in targeted online advertisements. These rumors have not only attracted media attention, but also the attention of regulatory authorities. With regard to explaining the phenomenon, opinions are divided both in public debate and in research. While one side dismisses the eavesdropping suspicions as unrealistic or even paranoid, many others are fully convinced of the allegations or at least consider them plausible. To help structure the ongoing controversy and dispel misconceptions that may have arisen, this paper provides a holistic overview of the issue, reviewing and analyzing existing arguments and explanatory approaches from both sides. Based on previous research and our own analysis, we challenge the widespread assumption that the spying fears have already been disproved. While confirming a lack of empirical evidence, we cannot rule out the possibility of sophisticated large-scale eavesdropping attacks being successful and remaining undetected. Taking into account existing access control mechanisms, detection methods, and other technical aspects, we point out remaining vulnerabilities and research gaps.
Published in: Data and Applications Security and Privacy XXXIII, 10.1007/978-3-030-22479-0_6, Springer