The debut of Apple's new facial recognition system Face ID on the iPhone X is raising many concerns about its privacy and security implications.
Although Apple said that the facial recognition data is stored locally on the "secure enclave" of the phone, the potential for abuse cannot be denied.
Knowing Apple's penchant for pushing emerging technologies into mainstream acceptance, the normalization of facial recognition may pave the way for more pervasive forms of consumer behavior tracking and mass surveillance.
But did you know that even without facial recognition, your smartphone is already quietly recording tons of data about you? You might be shocked, but that little gadget in your pocket has you almost all figured out.
How smartphones track your location
Apple and Android devices that you might not be aware of. The feature is buried inside privacy settings, and unless you turn it off, it will record your daily routine.
Known as "Frequent Locations," it keeps track of where you are and how long you stay there. It even knows where you live and work based on how long you're there and the number of times you go.
If you find this quite unsettling, you can turn the feature off:
Turn off location settings on Apple Devices
- Click "Settings"
- Go to "Privacy"
- Select "Location Services"
- Scroll down to "System Services"
- Choose "Significant Locations" to see the logged record of where you've been; de-select this to turn it off
You can also clear your history here by clicking "Clear History."
Change location settings on Android Devices
- Open the App Drawer and go to "Settings"
- Scroll down and tap "Location"
- Scroll down and tap "Google Location Settings"
- Tap "Location Reporting" and "Location History" and switch the slider to off for each one
- To delete your device's location cache, tap "Delete Location History" at the bottom of the screen under "Location History"
- Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device
Smartphones store your voice data
With the rise of virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, our smartphones are no longer used strictly for calls and chats — we can now use our voices to command these gadgets themselves.
However, when you utter these virtual assistants' wake words, the audio file of your voice command is uploaded and saved to Apple or Google's servers for processing.
Chances are, as with any other tracking information, this data is likely anonymized and run through algorithms that look for behavior and patterns that can be used for targeted advertising.
But still, knowing that your smartphone or appliance may be listening to you at all times can be understandably unsettling.
All your photos
For most of us, our smartphones have become our go-to cameras. Why not? We take them wherever we go and with the improvements in smartphone cameras, the images and videos are fantastic.
If you're using an automatic cloud backup service like iCloud or Google Photos, then each of your photos has its own copy saved in their servers somewhere.
Even deleting a photo from your phone or the cloud does not mean it is totally gone. Most deleted photos can still be recovered in unallocated areas of the smartphone's storage until that area is called up for something else.
And who knows what happens when you delete a photo from cloud storage? They may appear deleted but they are still saved somewhere, just rendered inaccessible to us.
Going back to Apple's penchant for pushing technologies into the mainstream, before Touch ID was introduced in 2013, everyone was doubting if fingerprint reading was a secure biometric system in smartphones. Now, it's a ubiquitous feature.
We've been handing over this sensitive and virtually unique piece of personal identification to our smartphones for years now in exchange for the convenience it brings.
But is this fingerprint data safe? Like with the upcoming Face ID technology of the iPhone X, Apple claims that Touch ID data is stored and encrypted locally on an iPhone's Secure Enclave as mathematical data only and the company doesn't have an actual database of fingerprints.
This is not the case for other smartphone companies, however, since there's no real standard for fingerprint data storage. In fact, back in 2015, it was discovered the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One Max smartphones did not store fingerprints using encryption and they're all viewable as image files. Now, that's quite a security risk, don't you think?