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PowerSpy takes advantage of the fact that a phone's cellular transmissions use more power to reach a given cell tower the farther it travels from that tower, or when obstacles like buildings or mountains block its signal. That correlation between battery use and variables like environmental conditions and cell tower distance is strong enough that momentary power drains like a phone conversation or the use of another power-hungry app can be filtered out, Michalevsky says.
One of the machine-learning tricks the researchers used to detect that "noise" is a focus on longer-term trends in the phone's power use rather than those than last just a few seconds or minutes. Even so, PowerSpy has a major limitation: It requires that the snooper pre-measure how a phone's power use behaves as it travels along defined routes.
This means you can't snoop on a place you or a cohort has never been, as you need to have actually walked or driven along the route your subject's phone takes in order to draw any location conclusions. The Stanford and Israeli researchers collected power data from phones as they drove around California's Bay Area and the Israeli city of Haifa. Then they compared their dataset with the power consumption of an LG Nexus 4 handset as it repeatedly traveled through one of those routes, using a different, unknown choice of route with each test.
They found that among seven possible routes, they could identify the correct one with 90 percent accuracy. Michalevsky says the group hopes to improve its analysis to apply that same level of accuracy to tracking phones through many more possible paths and with a variety of phones—they already believe that a Nexus 5 would work just as well, for instance.
The researchers also are working on detecting more precisely where in a known route a phone is at any given time.
List of Best Music Finder Apps for Android
Currently the precision of that measurement varies from a few meters to hundreds of meters depending upon how long the phone has been traveling. The researchers have attempted to detect phones' locations even as they travel routes the snooper has never fully seen before. That extra feat is accomplished by piecing together their measurements of small portions of the routes whose power profiles have already been pre-measured.
For a phone with just a few apps like Gmail, a corporate email inbox, and Google Calendar, the researchers were able determine a device's exact path about two out of three times.
Android spy apps similar to shazam | cell phone spy
For phones with half a dozen additional apps that suck power unpredictably and add noise to the measurements, they could determine a portion of the path about 60 percent of the time, and the exact path just 20 percent of the time. Even with its relative imprecision and the need for earlier measurements of power use along possible routes, Michalevsky argues that PowerSpy represents a privacy problem that Google hasn't fully considered. Android makes power consumption data available to all apps for the purpose of debugging.
But that means the data easily could have been restricted to developers, nixing any chance for it to become a backdoor method of pinpointing a user's position. This isn't the first time that Michalevsky and his colleagues have used unexpected phone components to determine a user's sensitive information. Whilst it continues listening, Shazam does stop processing the data.
What does that mean? Whilst the recording feature runs, it doesn't ostensibly do anything with the audio.
Shazam's apps continue to record audio after the user turns it off, but processing of the data ceases. Pearson said there was no privacy issue as the app neither saves nor sends audio samples anywhere. It's been downloaded 50, times. But when the toggle for Shazam was switched off, the alert that the mic was no longer being accessed didn't appear. The only way to stop it would be to turn the app off entirely. OverSight was the product of previous research, when Wardle had shown how malware could piggyback on legitimate features of normal apps, such as Skype video calls, and siphon data off in secret.
Shazam’s New Lite App For Android Is Much Faster In Identifying Songs
Some advice for Mac users? As well as anti-virus and your own common sense, use OverSight if you're worried about good apps turning bad. As such, I'm uninstalling Shazam as quickly as possible," he wrote in a blog post today.