Category Archives: Android

How Your Phone is Tracked and How to Hide Your Location

Ever get stunned by an ad that seems to know more about your life than it should?

At times it can seem like tech companies are listening to our conversions. However, the reality is nobody has time for that. There are much more efficient ways to gather data.

It’s true that businesses are very interested in your preferences and habits. By pinpointing the places you visit, learning the products you buy and opinions you have, advertisers can tailor their message just for people like you.

Often their goal is to build profiles of their typical customers. And to do that they gather information from many sources.

They leverage the tech built into your phone, sophisticated software, and the power of the internet. Websites use tracking codes, browser fingerprinting, and cookies that are stored on your laptop or phone. Some companies even purchase personal information from other businesses that specialize in gathering data.

How Apps and Websites Determine Your Location

Smartphones offer us amazing utility and convenience, but with that comes potential doorways to our private information.

Phones have GPS technology built-in and software developers use this to determine where you are. When you launch an app, it may ask for permission to access your photos or your location. You may have to agree for the app to function correctly, but in other cases it’s optional.

Websites often don’t need to ask for permission to determine your IP address and the country you’re based in.

You may have noticed websites sometimes ask to access your location data and you can accept or deny the request in your browser. A good example is when you’re searching for a retail store location that’s near you. Many people go for it as it’s more convenient to grant access to your location data than to enter your zip code or postal code.

Bluetooth Beacons Are Watching

Advertisers use hidden Bluetooth beacons in supermarket shelves, advertising posters, and malls to track you. It’s a simple device that transmits a continuous signal that phone apps can detect.

It notifies them when you have walked into a store or gone past an advertisement so it can be counted as a visit or ad impression. Beacons are also used to determine how effective an ad is.

Recommendation: Make it a habit to turn off Bluetooth when you aren’t using it.

IP Targeting: An Invasion of Privacy?

Ad tech is extremely sophisticated in terms of delivering a tailored message to the right geographic area or even household.

Geotargeting serves ads to wide location such as the United States or the city of Toronto.

IP targeting is much more specific to the point it may be perceived as intrusive. Advertisers can deliver specific ads to a list of households that fit criteria they have set, such as age, education, income, or even interests.

Recommendation: Use a VPN service whenever possible to hide your IP address. For more info about VPNs as well as best providers, go here.

Mobile Towers Can Determine Your Whereabouts

If you think turning off your phone’s GPS will effectively hide your location from all parties, think again. To receive service, smartphones transmit personal identifiers to cell towers owned by major network operators.

In other words, the technology your phone provider uses needs to track your location and verify that you’re a paying customer.

Thus, by simply owning a smartphone people have accepted tracking devices in disguise into their life. That’s because there’s currently no way to decouple the customer authentication process from the connectivity process.

The good news is there are startup companies such as Invisv working on solutions which may give smartphone users true location privacy in the future.

Recommendation: To keep your location data private and prevent it from being transmitted to cell phone and Wi-Fi towers enable the “Airplane Mode” feature on your phone.

Ad Trackers Build Profiles Associated with Your Devices

High-tech businesses sometimes use methods such as cookies, tracking URLs and tracking pixels to monitor consumer behavior. If their tech is sophisticated enough, they can piece together the data that is harvested and automatically build a profile that outlines your buying habits, interests, etc.

If you’ve ever wondered how websites and apps show you ads that are a little too relevant for comfort, this is how they do it. It’s called ad personalization.

Luckily Apple and Google have included settings on their phones that allows you to turn off ad personalization. It’s just a matter of drilling down into the settings.

Recommendation: Disable personalized services and ads in the settings on your iOS or Android phone. Additionally, you may want to disable cookies in your internet browser. To learn the steps required to do it, have a look at this page.

Conclusion

Although being tracked is part of modern life, there are plenty of ways to regain your privacy and hide your location. More often than not it comes down to turning off your phone’s features when you don’t need them, such as Bluetooth and its GPS.

For trackers that can’t be avoided so easily, VPN services allow you to choose a VPN server location that differs from your actual location. Any solid VPN provider has apps you can install on your phone, devices, and laptop so your privacy is fully protected.

Better personal privacy requires mindfulness and set up, but decoupling your technology from your location is a liberating pursuit. Enjoy your life and travels knowing third parties can’t pinpoint exactly where you are!

How to Unblock Telegram Securely

Telegram is a growing instant messaging app, but not every country is feeling the love.

It’s banned in Iran, China, India, and Pakistan. It was also previously blocked in Russia before the restriction was lifted in 2020.

Why Telegram Was Blocked

After Edward Snowden alleged the NSA was spying on Americans, the public’s perception of institutions would never be the same.

With distrust of institutions and tech giants at an all-time-high, many people began to look into alternative apps like Telegram. They started using the app because they were concerned that they were being surveilled.

In fact, Telegram was born out of distrust for governments, server authorities, and the big players in social media.

When governments found out about the type of users Telegram was attracting, some clearly weren’t impressed.

Several countries labeled it as a political tool or as a threat to national security. Iran and Russia have specified that the Islamic State used it to organize terrorism plots, spread propaganda, and communicate with foreign governments.

How to Unblock Telegram

Do you live in a country that has blocked Telegram? Did you try to use the app at school or work only to find it’s blocked by the administrator?

The easiest, most reliable way to unblock Telegram is to use a VPN. A virtual private server allows you to hide your current location and replace it with another location of your choice. For example, people in Iran can change their IP address to one that is associated with the United States. Thus, you’ll be able to bypass the restriction and access the app.

There are a lot of solid VPN services out there, plus they’re all more affordable than ever. At LetMeBy we aim to only recommend the best to our visitors.

These are our go-to fast, secure VPNs:

Telegram’s Privacy and Security: Strong Enough?

According to the software developer themselves Telegram messages are always securely encrypted. Secret Chat messages use client-client encryption. Cloud Chats use client-server/server-client encryption and data is safely stored in the Telegram Cloud.

Critics have noted that while Telegram messages are encrypted, the method used to achieve this is suspect. It uses closed source encryption which is considered inferior by many leading security experts.

Additionally, Telegram messages are not encrypted by default. You have to enable this feature. Founder Pavel Durov wrote about why it’s a myth that messengers like WhatsApp are better because they use “end-to-end encrypted by default”, while Telegram does not.

Tensions Lead to Durov’s Creation

Telegram founder Pavel Durov, was once dubbed “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg” for creating a widely used website similar to Facebook for Russian citizens.

He fled Russia with $300 million due to clashes with Putin’s government. It was during this time in self-exile that Durov started programming Telegram. He created it specifically to give users better privacy and security when messaging.

The Yarovaya law, which requires Russian telecom operators to keep all voice and messaging traffic of their customers for half a year went into effect in July of 2018.

Management at Telegram couldn’t comply with the new law. They stated it was technically impracticable to provide transcripts of secret chats since they weren’t stored on the user’s devices or on Telegram’s servers.

Consequently, later in 2018 the Russian government began blocking Telegram. The ban was lifted in 2020 after Telegram agreed to help with extremism investigations.

Conclusion

Many users swear by Telegram and think it’s much safer-to-use than competitors like Facebook Messenger. Ultimately this camp prefers to trust Telegram founders Nikolai and Pavel Durov than to trust Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Others have pointed out that Telegram’s closed source encryption method is not as strong as their competitors. So, if you’re a fan of the app but want to be extra safe you may want to enable a VPN to add an additional layer of encryption.

Instagram and Facebook Can Use Your Photos, and You Agreed to It

They say always read the fine print. And when it comes to apps, not many actually do.

When you signed up with Instagram or Facebook you had to agree to the terms of service. You probably didn’t read it. You likely don’t remember tapping ‘agree’, but there’s no going back on that now.

That hasn’t stopped people from trying to block either app’s access to their photos after the fact… with a chain-letter.

Chain-letter Hoax Still Going

Since 2012 users have been posting a chain-letter hoax with a fake deadline. The letter warns their followers that there’s a new rule that allows either Instagram or Facebook to use their photos. And to opt out of the rule, they’re encouraged to repost the letter of course.

From there it contains a legal passage that attempts to thwart the supposedly new policy from affecting the poster.

“I do not give Instagram or any entities associated with Instagram permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future,” it reads. “With this statement, I give notice to Instagram it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take action against me based on this profile and/or its contents.”

Nice try, but anyone posting this has given the app access to their GPS, location, camera and photos. Posting a chain-letter won’t revoke privileges that have already been granted.

In fact, the apps often need access to these features on your phone to function. So restricting access isn’t always worth it, even when you can.

Facebook has stated that they also collect info about your network, the device your using, and many other data points.

And to be clear, Instagram and Facebook can access much more than the photos you post to their platform. The company has access to your entire photo library!

How Facebook Uses Your Photos

Would Mark Zuckerberg and friends ever actually harvest your photos and use it on their app without your permission?

Actually, their ad platform does this frequently. However, before you get alarmed, it’s not nearly as bad as you might assume. Some functions show your photos to you exclusively, rather than your friends or the public.

They will use a photo you uploaded earlier to grab your attention and encourage you to run an ad.

Another way Facebook uses your photos is by showing you a memory you posted several years ago and encouraging you to repost it with an updated caption.

Blocking Instagram’s Access to Photos on Your Phone

So, is it possible to simply block apps like Instagram from getting to your photos via the settings in Android or iOS? Yes, you can block them from scraping data associated with your images.

On an Apple device launch ‘Settings,’ then tap on ‘Instagram.’ From there you tap ‘Photos,’ then select ‘Never.’

Consider Using a VPN with Instagram and Facebook

Those that still have privacy concerns may want to review their privacy settings within the app, and then considering using a VPN.

A VPN (virtual private server) acts like an encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet for improved privacy and security.

Using a VPN hides your location and other private data so apps and websites can’t collect as much information about you.

To learn more, read LetMeBy’s reviews of the top VPN providers.

Conclusion

Instagram and Facebook collect data about your photos and have access to everything you upload to the apps as well as your photo gallery by default.

Luckily there are measures you can take to limit their access to your data. You can do this with privacy settings in the app, system settings, or with a VPN. Be aware, simply posting a chain-letter regarding revoking access to your photos won’t do any good.

How to Unblock TikTok at School or Work

TikTok is one of the most downloaded apps on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, but not everyone is feeling the love. In fact, India banned it citing national security concerns.

Granted, your teachers or business leaders are likely more concerned about your productivity, and not greater concerns such as alleged theft of user data as reported by India’s technology ministry.

TikTok is often labeled as an entertainment app for Generation Z, however this is changing. You’ll find business leaders, academics, doctors, and brands on there more than ever. Just because the platform has a fun, youthful vibe doesn’t mean you can’t learn there.

Unfortunately, managers are unlikely to acknowledge that accessing TikTok doesn’t have to be about fun and games. Generally, it’s seen as a distraction. And since it’s relatively easy for the network admin to block all access to TikTok via the company or school network, leaders are quick to take this action.

How TikTok is Blocked

Network admins can ban domain names or IP addresses associated with an app they don’t want you to access. So, for example, an admin can block all internet traffic to https://www.tiktok.com/.

Unblock by Using Your Data Plan

The key point to remember is they can only prevent you from using TikTok with their network. Therefore, a simple workaround is to turn off Wi-Fi and launch the app via your mobile data plan.

The drawback to this is of course TikTok can eat up your monthly bandwidth fairly quickly.

Using a VPN to Access TikTok

A VPN is best way to gain access to apps that have been blocked. A Virtual Private Network changes your IP address and your location. Rather than connecting to the internet directly a VPN creates a halfway point that gives you privacy features, security via encryption, etc.

Some high-end routers have VPN capabilities, however since your looking to use TikTok at school or work, the solution you’ll need is a VPN service.

You can read about the best VPNs here. If you’re short on time, the providers we recommend most often here at LetMeBy are below:

Wrapping It Up

There’s so much more to TikTok than dancing teens, pranks, and lip synching to trending hip hop tunes. It’s becoming more educational, and it’s a resource that may prove useful at school or work. Also, it provides a big opportunity for marketers looking to reach young people.

Until educators or your boss catch on that it’s more than a time-wasting app, you’re going to have to bend the rules a bit. And the best way to do that is to use a VPN, but only when you really need to.

Is Facebook Listening to Your Conversations? Not Exactly

Have you ever gotten that eerie feeling that someone is watching you? Of course, right? It’s a common phenomenon. Michael Jackson even wrote a song about it:

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I have no privacy

Facebook can give you that same impression when the app displays an ad that relates to something you just discussed privately on your smartphone.

Imagine you just got off the phone with your local florist. You launch Facebook out of habit, and the first ad you see is 1800Flowers.

The most obvious explanation is that Facebook must have spied on your conversation.

So, is Facebook listening? Likely not how you think they are (via recording audio), and it’s complicated. First, let’s look at why conspiracy theories about this abound, then examine the evidence.

Many Don’t Trust Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg

Research company Toluna found that Facebook is the least trusted tech company by a considerable amount. Forty percent of said they didn’t trust Facebook with their personal information.

Mark Zuckerberg has been grilled by congress on numerous occasions. They’ve blasted him for failing to curb the proliferation of fake news, not fact-checking political ads, Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency, etc. Each time he appears in congress people the public is reminded that Zuckerberg is generally viewed with suspicion by government leaders.

Audio Transcription Tech Raises Concerns

In August 2019 Bloomberg wrote a piece about Facebook contacting an external company to create software that transcribes audio conversations in their Messenger app. The transcription tech was tested on users that opted in, and the possibility of human review of conversations was part of the terms associated with using it.

To the average reader this was confirmation that Facebook is indeed spying on its users’ private conversations. Years of conspiratorial speculations rose to the surface, as this news was exactly what Facebook’s critics needed to add legitimacy to their theories.

It was Senator Gary Peters that asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook listens to conversations and then generates targeted ads with that data. Zuckerberg replied, “You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads. We don’t do that.”

Facebook has attempted to set the matter straight via their Newsroom. They’ve stated that ads are generated based on people’s profile information: their interests, job title, brands they follow, etc., and not what you’re talking out loud about.

Is Spying on Users Practical or Even Possible?

Despite anecdotal claims that Facebook must be listening, the data doesn’t add up.

Wandera, a mobile cyber-security company, conducted a test to determine if audio picked up with the phone’s mic influences which ads are displayed.

They put a Samsung and Apple iPhone in a room, then played an audio loop of pet food ads for 30 minutes per day, for three days. They placed another set of phones in a silent room so they could compare the results.

No pet food ads appeared on any of the phones. And more tellingly, there were no differences in data consumption, battery use, and background activity.

Experts have pointed out that it would take an incredible amount of server resources for Facebook to listen to over 150 million daily active users in the U.S. alone.

Alternatively, if Facebook were to scan audio for keywords coming into the microphone it would take a considerable amount of your phone’s CPU processing power which would be impossible to hide.

Another reason Facebook would almost certainly never even consider doing this is it’s illegal to collect audio recordings of people.

Do You VPN?

People that simply don’t trust Zuck or Facebook can use a VPN to mask their location, IP address, etc. Read about LetMeBy’s top VPN picks to learn more.

A Reality Check

The truth is there are much more efficient and effective ways to gather data about users than harvesting audio.

Facebook has a complex algorithm that considers the information you post or input when determining which ads to show you.

It can be so stunningly accurate in determining what products or services you’re interested in you’d swear they must be listening to you. However, what really happened is the algorithm made an educated guess and managed to hit the bullseye.

There are valid reasons not to trust Facebook due to lack of privacy but spying on your conversations is not one based on the evidence.