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Suspicious ads have some wondering if smartphones are spying on them

Some are asking what information smartphones gather from users -- and how it is obtained (Photo: MGN)

Smartphones can be addictive.

One study shows 80 percent of users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. Another found the average person checks their phone 150 times a day.

"When I'm not driving, I am on my phone," says college student Michael, 20. "I guess it's like the new generation."

Michael says he’s basically grown up with a phone in his hand, always on Snapchat, or Instagram or Facebook.

Meanwhile, Dave Delatorre, 26, admits it's unfortunate seeing everyone constantly glued to their gadgets and not socializing. He too is on his phone a lot, but hates the word addict.

"I try not to be. I am conscious of it,” Delatorre says. “I want to connect with people and not my phone."

However, Delatorre says what is even more alarming is the information his smartphone is gathering.

"I will be listening to music on Pandora and I'll drive past a certain place and an ad will play for that place that I am driving past,” Delatorre says. “That’s kind of weird."

Dr. Xenia Mountrouidou is a College of Charleston computer science professor. She believes our phones are constantly tracking by our location, search habits and what we share.

"You feel like you are being watched and I do understand that," Mountrouidou says.

ABC News 4 asked viewers for their stories, and many had similar responses to this one:

"My sister and I were talking about printers. then I started getting ads for them on Facebook."

Mountrouidou says she believes it’s simply a coincidence.

“These companies work together,” she said. “They may not sell your data illegally, but you may have signed off that they may share your data with other advertisement companies."

A common theory seems to be that Facebook, especially, is listening to what we say, and monitoring where we are. However, Mountrouidou doesn’t believe that’s the case.

"It doesn't happen in an intrusive way as turning on your camera and turning on your microphone,” says Mountrouidou. “This would be a legal nightmare for them and a public relations nightmare. I don't see the return or investment in doing that.”

Still, people like Delatorre find themselves worrying.

"I just would never would want to get to a point where you have so much data, you know what to put in front of someone to make them do something," Delatorre said.

Facebook denies listening to users’ conversations. The social media giant has even released a statement about it.

"Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information – not what you’re talking out loud about. We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates."

If you are still concerned Facebook or other apps may be listening a little too closely, there are steps you can take to restrict permissions the app has.

On an iPhone, go to:

Settings

Privacy

Microphone

Facebook

Turn the slider to OFF

For Android users, go to:

Settings

Privacy

App permissions

Microphone

Facebook

Turn the slider to OFF

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