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There are many stories of individuals exchanging information near a cell phone, then finding targeted ads closely related to that information, with those same individuals claiming they did not search about that information in any internet browser. I have experienced a similar sensation, but I can usually attribute the targeted ads to some slightly related web search I made so casually that it slipped my mind.

That begs the question: are there tracking methods to generate targeted ads based on users' regular cell phone use (texting and calling, use/presence of apps)? Very similar to this Q&A: Listening to phone calls as user profiling for marketing

If more or less yes, and potentially as a way to answer that question in any case, here's a more tangible question: are there any tools to identify and block tracking methods that could be used to generate targeted ads from regular cell phone use? Even if no such tracking methods exist, perhaps there is software designed to keep a watch for it, as a part of a mobile security suite?

For example, is there a tool like Privacy Badger for smart phone applications? Privacy Badger monitors fingerprinting and tracking techniques by third parties within web pages viewed on a web browser - can any tool monitor for such behavior tracking being performed by smartphone applications, enabling users to have more control / confidence with their privacy?

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    "use/presence of apps": bingo: apps can do all sorts of things you wouldn't expect a free game trial to do. Ex: "SD Card Access"; sounds like it might just want to save the score right? Yes, but it can also scan your saved photos and read the gps exif tags to find out where you've been and where. Without any perms, apps know if you're moving, if the phone is plugged in, what your unique IDs are, what other apps/settings are in use, the list is virtually endless. don't use apps. – dandavis Apr 18 '17 at 23:02
  • @dandavis minimizing apps installed makes a lot of sense to me, but "don't use apps" seems very difficult on smart phones. Even with the bare bones, most phones come preloaded with a ton of junk apps. That's why I ask about tools to detect that kind of sketchy use of permissions and general 'overstepping boundaries' type of behavior. Perhaps the answer - in addition to best practices like minimizing app installations - is encryption (so I ask: security.stackexchange.com/questions/157621/…) – cr0 Apr 19 '17 at 4:04
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The tracking methods are not all located in your phone. For example, Verizon has been adding their own custom header, X-UIDH, to cell phone HTTP requests that pass through their network; and are using this to track users across the web. Because it's injected by servers in their network and not by your browser or phone, there is no phone-based firewall or software solution capable of stopping this. And as Verizon strips it out before it's returned to your phone, you aren't even able to detect it without looking at the traffic that arrives on a web server.

If this concerns you, and you are a Verizon subscriber, your best defenses are to use encryption. While HTTPS Everywhere may seem like a good idea, I wouldn't put it past a phone company like this to install a proxy certificate on your phone that would enable them to MitM your HTTPS traffic. Instead, encrypt all your phone's traffic before it leaves your phone, either using a VPN or Tor. And you may want to switch to WhatsApp if you want to keep them from listening to your voice. Since it seems kind of foolish to buy phone service from a company that can't be trusted, if this is a problem for you you should probably shop around for a phone provider that isn't violating your privacy.

Of course, this merely shifts your security burden to a different entity, but at least you can shop around for one that is more aligned with your privacy interests.

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    "I wouldn't put it past a phone company like this to install a proxy certificate on your phone" that is assuming they control the firmware. Buy an iPhone or a device outside their control and you'll be fine. – André Borie Apr 19 '17 at 0:18
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    Finally the best solution is to vote with your wallet and move to a less shady provider. A lot of the smaller business-grade providers (which are still using the big players for the backhaul) have their own APN which doesn't have any of this nonsense, so they are worth a try. – André Borie Apr 19 '17 at 0:20
  • @AndréBorie am I understanding correctly: smaller business-grade providers may not have the same privacy offenses as larger service providers, even if one of those larger service providers is ultimately handling the traffic for the smaller provider? Because of agreements between the smaller and larger provider, I imagine, which average users couldn't confidently negotiate and enforce with the larger provider? – cr0 Apr 19 '17 at 4:00
  • @cr0 usually in a Host<->MVNO agreement, data handover mostly happens at a lower level than IP so data can't touch the ads/tracking proxy even if they wanted to. The MNVO is the one who adds the IP layer down the line and most of them aren't that nasty so you usually get a pretty good connection. Extreme solution: become your own MVNO (that's how I get publicly routable IPs on my tablet). – André Borie Apr 19 '17 at 8:21
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With the bill congress has passed recently, this is a great question.

I do wonder how Google could get away with this... but the article above makes it clear they will.

There are many stories of individuals exchanging information near a cell phone, then finding targeted ads closely related to that information, with those same individuals claiming they did not search about that information in any internet browser.

Google has turned all Android phones into listening devices.

No privacy tool will be able to protect you, especially if you use Android. I would recommend Replicant (a FOSS version of Android) but unfortunately, F-Droid is a security nightmare (it basically fumbles on what Google does right, but Replicant is already looking into replacing this)

For now, those of us who can't live without smart phones should use iPhone. There is no way to completely protect yourself from smart phone spying right now.

are there any tools to identify and block tracking methods that could be used to generate targeted ads from regular cell phone use?

I highly recommend removing the microphone from your phone and using headsets for voice commands and phone calls. This will stop the problem of Google targeting your ads based on conversation.

Begin onslaught of tin foil hat accusations

  • Though bluetooth headsets might make it less impractical to remove the microphone from your phone, that still seems like a security measure that degrades accessibility way too much. Easier to switch to a 'dumb phone'. I'm not sure that dodges all issues however, like the X-UIDH tracking measure @JohnDeters noted, unless it is 'really dumb' and has no internet connection whatsoever. – cr0 Apr 18 '17 at 14:31
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    that bill has nothing to do with google, and google has fought it. In terms of google listening to your actual conversations to target ads: where the heck did you get that idea? – dandavis Apr 18 '17 at 23:09

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