Screaming Stone Design

Spyware in Android Phones

When you hear that your phone is full of spyware that is watching you (with your phone's camera), listening to you (with your phone's microphone) and following you around (with your phone's GPS) and sending all this information back to nefarious entities, you are likely to think these statments are the delusional ravings of someone suffering from paranoia, but actually they are not.

Unfortunately it is a very real situation and most people are blissfully unaware they are constantly being spied upon and that they are willing participants in this surveillance.

There are some people who are vaguely aware of this and will trot out the idiotic statement that none of this is a problem unless you have something to hide.

That is not the point - the point is that unknown actors are surveilling you and then using the data they collect about you for their own purposes and this is not regulated in any way whatsoever.

They are not the police, they are not the government and yet they are listening to everything you say and watching you when it is possible and working out where you are at every moment.

And who are they and why are they doing this? - they are Google and they do what they do to make money out of you.

If you don't believe me then install a firewall on your phone and be horrified at how often your apps attempt to upload / download data without either your knowledge or your permission.

Location Tracking

My own phone is a Samsung and I have disabled a large number of apps, some of which I disabled forcefully using ADB (Android Debug Bridge) and I have switched off background data for everything and foreground data for most things except the 3 apps I have which need it to function.

Despite this, many apps on my phone keep trying to access the internet.

Why, if I have disabled access, do they keep doing this?

An example of this nefarious behaviour is location tracking - I have disabled it and every single app which requires it has had that permission revoked.

I also used ADB to “uninstall” certain location apps so that location tracking could no longer function.

Despite this my phone keeps trying to contact Google to tell them where I am as can be seen by Google's secret location daemon trying to access the internet:

Google's location daemon attempting to access the internet

So, you may believe you have turned off “location” on your phone but you really haven't because Google is still tracking your location regardless.

Google is by no means the only nefarius entity at work behind your back - Samsung, my phone's manufacturer is another:

Samsung's Indoor Positioning System attempting to access the internet

Above is shown attempts to access the internet by Samsung's IPS Geofence, or Indoor Positioning System.

This is an app which is used to track a person's location inside a building to 2cm accuracy.

You might, for example, be shopping in the supermarket and linger slightly too long in the aisle in front of the baby products.

This information will be gathered by Google or Samsung or some other entity and sold to a marketing company and then you may start receiving advertisements for nappies or similar items.

Unwanted / Unpermitted Updates

Perhaps you may only want to keep your bills down by keeping your internet usage in check, or you may be serious about your privacy, so you revoke all background data usage and also revoke foreground data usage by the majority of apps.

Despite this your apps will keep accessing the internet and sending / receiving data.

Here are some examples:

Google Play Services attempting to access the internet

Above can be seen attempts by Google Play Services to access the internet.

You might believe that this behaviour is both necessary and important, after all, you have to keep your system up-to-date, don't you?

Well, actually, no - I don't - I am happy with how my apps function right now.

But surely I need to keep updating my apps so I can avail of the latest features and bug-fixes?

To that I have to point out that such updates often remove features I like and add in ones which are annoying, so no - I am happy with how my apps function right now.

But surely it is important to keep my system up-to-date to prevent viruses and malware getting onto my phone?

Well no, in fact, as I have blocked the majority of incoming / outgoing data, and I am not stupid enough to use a WiFi hotspot, I am extremely unlikely to get any malware on my phone.

Samsung

Google, as has already been mentioned, is pretty bad for privacy violations but luckily for me I do not have Android 11 on my phone and I already uninstalled one of Google's most invasive apps: Chrome.

The unwarranted internet access attempts which bother me most are caused by Samsung software:

Samsung Account attempting to access the internet

I do not have, and have never had, a Samsung account - when then does my phone keep trying to access one?

Samsung Experience Service attempting to access the internet

Samsung Experience Service is the GUI with which I interact when I use my phone (icons, tapping, swipping, etc) - it does not need to access the internet in order to function but it keeps trying anyway - why?

Camera attempting to access the internet

My camera app takes pictures and stores them on my phone, it does not upload them to the internet, nor does it download pictures from the internet and yet it keeps trying to access the internet - why?

Gallery attempting to access the internet

My gallery app displays the images on my phone, and like my camera app it does not upload any of them to the internet and does not download any from the internet and despite this it keeps trying to access the internet - why?

Samsung Music attempting to access the internet

I don't use Spotify or anything like it-

Instead, I rip my CDs with a shell script I wrote, which I compiled into an executable with SHC, which uses both CDParanoia and Lame to make variable bit-length encoded, joint stereo MP3s of the highest quality, and then I copy them onto my phone where I can listen to them using Samsung's own Music player app.

At no point is access to the internet required and yet, as you can see above, it still tries to do so - why?

 attempting to access the internet

Above is one which really bothers me - it isn't as bad as Google's keyboard but the potential for privacy violations is still staggering - it has no reason to access the internet and yet it still tries - why?

Just imagine if everything typed into the keyboard were sent back to Samsung or another entity and analysed and used for marketting or other more insidious purposes.

If you use the keyboard supplied by Google you should be seriously worried.

AASA Service attempting to access the internet

Supposedly AASA Service is used to send me notifications about security policies of apps installed on my phone - as I am not aware of ever having seen such a security policy I find myself wondering what exactly this app is doing on my phone and why it keeps trying to access the internet...

How Do I Stop This ?

One alternative for the privacy concious is to get a de-googled phone or a phone which is based on an alternative OS and is therefore free from Google's spyware - unfortunately such phones are rare and are very expensive.

Avoid iPhones as they are just as bad for privacy violations as Android phones, as well as being overly expensive and easily hacked.

You could try rooting your phone and uninstalling all of the potential spyware but there is a reasonable chance you will turn your phone into a brick.

If you have enough time and patience you could try disabling apps with Android Debug Bridge, revoking permissions, turning off location, turning off background data, turning off foreground data, installing replacement software (such as a keyboard and browser) and installing a firewall.

The truth, however, is unless Google is made to change their ways, or unless a new phone manufacturer comes along, you will always be at risk of surveillance.

Perhaps you could lobby your overpaid MEP to get off their lazy arse and do something about it?