Spying or protecting? How phones can work for and against you

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Local security experts told Local 8 News, your phone might be collecting more information than you're aware of.

Jason Graf from Sword and Shield in Knoxville explained, it's all about the users' intentions.

One Knoxville man reported to police, a woman he knew stole his cell, and theft prevention software caught a picture of her with it.

Graf said, there are apps you can buy to utilize gadgets in a phone the user might not realize have been turned on.

"So you can imagine, if you lost your phone and maybe it was one of those incidents where it was stolen rather than lost, you have the ability to see who might have your phone. If the thief has your phone in front of them and they're using it and you snap their picture, of course get geo-location information, maybe even listen in on conversations that give you the information you need to track it down," he said.

However, there is a thin line between spying and surveillance, he said.

"There are a number of applications out there that sort of ride the line between helping you find something or track something versus spy on them."

One is Prey. Prey features a free option that doesn't offer much more than a regular smartphone, but you can pay $5 per month and monitor control zones, front and back cameras and screen shot.

"You do have to be a little bit careful. It is tapping into capabilities in the phone you assume are not always listening," Graf said. "If you're in a situation where what you're doing, say at that time is sensitive to you, like maybe a private conversation with a lawyer about something. I would definitely not have my phone directly available, using it and things of that nature."

Whereas some use it for monitoring or spying, retailers can use these features for advertisements.

"I don't think it's coincidence that the Facebook advertisements are as good as they are. Sometimes it seems you can talk about things and all of a sudden your Facebook or internet gives you an ad," Graf said.

Graf reiterated, there's no need to worry, but taking precaution in terms of sensitive topics is a good idea.

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