Is Google spying on me right now?

Choosing a browser is no longer just about speed and convenience — it’s also about data defaults.

It’s true that Google usually obtains consent before gathering data, and offers a lot of knobs you can adjust to opt out of tracking and targeted advertising. But its controls often feel like a shell game that results in us sharing more personal data.

What Google collects (Examples)

Surprisingly, Google keeps an eye on your online activities by the help of accessing your information like name, email addresses, phone number, credit card and others. It also records your emails, photos, videos, map searches, documents, and browsing histories.

Google has to keep some data at any cost. This is because the famous search engine provides relevant and updated search results based on the collected information. The first and foremost objective of Google is to offer most relevant information to its users.

Unusually High Data Usage

Has your monthly data usage spiked recently? Is your device suddenly using more data than normal, bumping up against your monthly data allotment, yet you haven’t changed your online habits? That could indicate that someone has installed spyware on your device.

Lower-quality spy tools will try to send as much data about your device back to their home base (AKA the bad guys) as they possibly can. This can use large amounts of data.

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Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and other smart tech

As with any new emerging tech, smart speakers require trial and error. The rise of virtual assistants comes with some privacy risks and vulnerabilities. The main concern for devices like Alexa/Echo, Google Home, and Siri is the extent to which these devices are recording what is being said and if people can access those recordings, essentially turning them into spy gear. There have been reports that hackers can breach Amazon Echo’s security and stream live microphone audio to remote services. It is not likely that your spouse can do this themselves as it requires advanced computer skills and hacking abilities. Don’t relax just yet though – Amazon Echo does have a feature that your spouse could easily use to transform your device into spy gear.

Drop-in is a feature that allows a user to begin listening and speaking to you through the Echo speaker without the traditional phone ringing process or the requirement of someone answering the call. It would be very easy for someone to use this feature to eavesdrop. This may sound alarming, but luckily drop-in must be enabled on the Echo speaker itself before it can be used. If you are concerned about this feature, it can be disabled under your device’s settings.

How can you clean your phone if you suspect a spy app on the device?

There are several steps you can take to clean your phone of spyware and tracking apps:

  1. You can and should install an anti-virus program. Most computer anti-virus providers have a mobile app version of their software. And it is. Even Apple devices too. While Apple is typically more secure than Android it is not invincible. Install the anti-virus app!
  2. Backup your phone and then reset back to factory defaults. When you set up your phone again, don’t just blindly install every app you had before. Go through each one and make sure you recognize it. If you don’t, don’t install it. If it is a critical part of the system, the phone will make sure that it has what it needs.
  3. Some spy apps are disguised as regular apps like a calculator or even a clone app like Instagram. It will have the same name, and the same icon too. Make sure when you reinstall your apps to look at the app info which shows the company that created the app. All the usual-must-have apps will be developed by their main company like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Netflix etc.
  4. Make sure your phone is updated to the latest operating system. Both Apple and Google have updated their system that will prompt the user for permission to use sensitive info such as location.
  5. Change your passwords and don’t recycle the same password on all your apps and systems. Check your bank account and cell phone account to make sure you aren’t being billed a monthly recurring charge for services you didn’t sign up for.
  6. Be more suspicious about the apps you install. Install them only from the official Apps store and don’t just say YES to the permission it needs. Maps need access to your location, but a rock-paper-scissors game doesn’t.
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