Tag Archives: smartphone

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 Facebook in China

Yes, Facebook is blocked in China, along with the other major English-language social media sites like Twitter and Instagram.

And yes, it’s a frustrating inconvenience for visitors from overseas. After all, you’re likely accustomed to an open internet. This is especially true for the multitude that use Facebook as a glorified address book and don’t have all their contacts elsewhere. If you rely on it and other online services for business, it’s a real problem.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of maneuvering around the great firewall of China, let’s examine the facts behind this limitation.

No Facebook: The Why, When and Where

Censorship of Facebook started in July 2009 after the Ürümqi riots occurred in China. Xinjiang independence activists used Facebook as a part of their communications network. Thus, officials concluded that the social media site was a threat and have been blocking it ever since.

Before proceeding it should be noted that Facebook can be accessed in Hong Kong and Macau. Additionally, there’s been reports that after 2013 the social media site is available to some in China.

1. Accessing the Web in China: How-to

Luckily there’s a number of strategies you can use to get your Facebook fix in China.

But first, you’ll need to consider how to obtain access to the internet in general. Here’s a list of possible solutions:

Wi-Fi: Major urban centers in China have Wi-Fi access everywhere. The Wi-Fi gets incrementally scarcer as you go further inland. As you need to be able to receive a text with a PIN to gain a connection, this option will be out for some.

Rented Phone: If taken care of before departing for China, service providers will ship a ready-to-use phone to you which is a convenient option. Also, you can opt to pick it up upon arrival. Unlike roaming, rates are fixed, reasonable and the service is guaranteed to have extensive coverage.

China SIM Card: If you’ve got the time and would rather approach this as a local would, get a SIM card. You’ll need an unlocked phone and a passport to make it happen. Either locate a kiosk that offers China SIM cards (often found at major airports in Beijing, Shanghai, etc.). Or, visit to a telecom company such as China Unicom or China Mobile store to buy one.

International Roaming: Your local carrier probably offers international roaming that includes a set number of minutes and data. This route can be costly. So, as a rule of thumb it should be the last resort.

2. Get on Facebook in China: How-to

It’s best to plan ahead and get your VPN account set up before traveling to China. If you don’t, it will be either be a real pain or an impossible task.

Decision-makers in Chinese government are well aware that people use VPNs to get around their restrictions. Thus, websites belonging to major VPN services are typically blocked in China.

Now, you may be wondering: what’s a VPN?

A virtual private network provides a buffer in-between your internet connection and the web.

So, your real IP address is replaced with another IP associated with a different location of your choosing. This means the ISP and websites you visit can’t tell you’re in China. All you need to do is select a city in the US with VPN software.

1. Sign up with a VPN service provider.
2. Download VPN software supplied by the service on each device you plan to use in China.
3. Launch the app, configure the settings, and test it by choosing a server location.
4. Once you’re in China you should be good to go. Click on “connect” and browse the free internet!

Best VPNs for China

LetMeBy’s recommended VPNs are a little different for China. VyprVPN has been vigilant about working around China’s roadblocks and deserves a spot here. Now, the top three:

PureVPN
NordVPN
VyprVPN

To read full reviews of the VPNs that are recommended here you can also visit this page.

Here’s the Catch

It’s necessary to consider that a VPN might fail you. China is continually trying to block these services. And the VPNs keep finding new tactics to get around it. Thus, there’s a clash going on here to be aware of.

If reliable Facebook access is absolutely necessary, you may want to beef up your offense. Some seasoned travelers recommend obtaining memberships with two VPNs. That way, if one doesn’t work you’ve got a backup.

To Conclude…

Internet access limitations can be a drag for foreigners visiting China.

Apps like Facebook Messenger provide channels of communication millions use every day. Being blocked from accessing Facebook can be also mean being unable to see important messages from friends, family, or colleagues.

The best way to approach this situation is to make the necessary arrangements before traveling to China. Start by ensuring your important contacts have an alternative way to reach you in case you can’t access Facebook. Secondly, sign up with VPN services that are known to work in China before the trip, and not after.

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.