Getting Weird

Don’t trust your iPhones

More stories from Alyssa Anderson

Getting Weird
December 13, 2018

Just last night, I was at a friend’s house when she casually mentioned a very strange, yet very common occurrence. She told me that, one day, she was merely thinking about taking a trip to Colorado. She didn’t mention this trip to anyone, nor did she even speak of it aloud. Nevertheless, moments later, she’s scrolling through Instagram when ads for Colorado vacations begin popping up.

Her experience is not unique. In fact, I have heard many people describe similar situations where their technology seems to know a little too much about them, myself included. So I decided to take a look and see if there is any validity to these experiences or if we’re all just being paranoid.

Well, I certainly don’t think we’re being paranoid.

In Sept. of 2016, former FBI director James Comey was asked if he put tape over his webcam, a common practice for those who feel their computers might be looking right back at them. As reported in “The Hill,” Comey said he absolutely does.

“There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them,” Director James Comey said during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Also, I get mocked for a lot of things, and I am much mocked for that, but I hope people lock their cars … lock your doors at night. I have an alarm system, if you have an alarm system you should use it, I use mine,” Comey said.

If the ex-FBI director is spooked to the point of putting tape over his webcam, I think that really tells us something.

An article from “The Guardian” outlined the many ways the ways the government, hackers and our devices themselves keep tabs on us. The article references Felix Krause, founder of fastlane, an open source tool for iOS and Android developers focused on making it easier to create and release new Apps. Krause, who is quite well-versed in modern technology, said our devices may be accessing our information in ways we didn’t expect.

When you allow any apps access to your microphone and camera, Krause explained the apps then have the power to take pictures and videos without telling you, post those pictures and/or videos on the internet, livestream the camera onto the internet, record you at any time the app is in the foreground and, last but not least, upload random frames of the video stream to your web service and run a proper face recognition software which can find existing photos of you on the internet and create a 3D model based on your face.

Excuse me?

What Krause is saying here is that the apps on your phone with access to camera and microphone have the power to, essentially, create a 3D model of your face from watching your every move. Unbeknownst to any of us, there could be livestreams of our day-to-day lives somewhere in cyberworld.

“The Guardian” also reported that Edward Snowden, whose name you may remember from the WikiLeaks scandal, revealed an NSA program called Optic Nerves, a bulk surveillance operation, where they captured images from Yahoo users’ webcams and stored them for later use.

If that’s not enough to have you throwing your laptops and phones out the window, Snowden also said government agencies like the NSA have access into your devices through built-in backdoors. This means security agencies can tune-in to your phone calls, read your emails or even take pictures of you whenever they please. I mean, you would probably have to give the NSA a reason to monitor you, but just knowing they have the power to access intimate details of our lives is enough to make me want to go off the grid.

And, last but not least, there are hackers. Hackers can strike at any time, and they’re not all socially-awkward-yet-loveable heroes like Rami Malek from “Mr. Robot.” Wouldn’t that be nice? In reality, however, hackers can infiltrate your device by sending you malicious software and, once you open it, gain complete access of your device.  After that, hackers have the power to delete all of your software, take video and audio from your camera, get all your passwords and, if they really wanted to, plant incriminating material on your device and notify the police.

It seems there is no way to avoid being watched by our technology except to smash all our devices, set them on fire and run into the wilderness. Even then, I wouldn’t be shocked if the government has had us all implanted with a microchip to track our locations.

Welcome to season five of “Black Mirror,” folks. We’re living in it.

Anderson can be reached at [email protected]