Mobile phones have become our fifth limb – can you imagine going anywhere without one? There’s even a name for that feeling you get that your phone is vibrating even when it’s not in your pocket, the phantom vibration syndrome. So it’s no surprise how much private data there is about you on your mobile phone, which is how John Cho’s character attempts to find his daughter in Searching.

What’s more surprising, though, is that all that private data on your smartphone isn’t all that private after all. Although the FBI made a big deal out of asking Apple to unlock the iPhone of a suspected terrorist back in 2016, it turns out that there are… other ways of accessing information on your phone. What is for your own eyes may be privy to many other eyes, too.

So here’s how your different types of mobile data can be accessed. Don’t blame us if you get really paranoid after this…


1. Photos

That Camera Roll may have been seen by many others. Credit: iPhone Photography

That Camera Roll may have been seen by many others. Credit: iPhone Photography

You probably have at least one unflattering selfie on your smartphone – or even some personal ones that you’ve sent to your significant other. But what you may not realise is that your phone could be backing up your photos via cloud storage… and those private photos are being backed up as well. While it doesn’t mean that someone is constantly looking through all those photos that are on the cloud, it does mean that they’re prone to being hacked. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, or Kirsten Dunst. All of them are iCloud users, which means that they backed up their mobile phone’s photos using cloud storage – which was promptly hacked into and then circulated by a perverted group of hackers.

Then you have those apps which ask for permission to access your photos. While that they may be convenient for you, it usually means that they access to all your photos – even the private ones. In theory, an Internet-enabled app could upload your photos onto its servers, thus leaking your private information online.

It’s just that we haven’t had a case of that… yet.


2. Calls

Call history. Credit: FamilyTime

Call history. Credit: FamilyTime

It’s a given that your mobile carrier has a log of all the calls you’ve made – you have to connect the calls through their network, after all. But if you’re an Android user, this also means that Facebook has your call history.

Yes. You read it right. Facebook has been logging the calls of Android users all these years. By itself, that information may not be useful – until you realise that Facebook can use that information to make deductions about your social networks and connections, thus improving the way they target ads at you.

Now that Facebook call tracking has been exposed, you can turn off the settings on your account. But if you never knew they were tracking you, how would you know to turn off said settings?

That isn’t the only thing that Facebook tracks on your mobile phone…


3. Messages

Everyone uses Whatsapp. Credit: Kalinga TV & Quartz

Everyone uses WhatsApp. Credit: Kalinga TV & Quartz

Like calls, we know that our SMSes can be tracked by mobile carriers. But few of us actually SMS nowadays – we use WhatsApp.

And who bought WhatsApp in 2014? Facebook. For US$19 billion.

That resulted in a big brouhaha when WhatsApp rolled out its new T&Cs – which allows it to share information with Facebook. Although it’s nice to ask for permission, seeing that Facebook owns WhatsApp – it could just take your messages and read it without telling you.

You’d never know it was read by Facebook, since it won’t reveal a blue tick.


4. Locations

Google Maps. Credit: Google

Google Maps. Credit: Google

Location tracking sounds like an opt-in sort of thing – you only share your location when you want to, since apps don’t broadcast where you are all the time (for obvious safety reasons).

But if you don’t disable this function, your apps are tracking your every move. That includes Google Maps, which can generate a detailed map of your movements thanks to its location tracking feature. If you haven’t disabled the Location History function, it can show your trail.

Are you checking your mobile phone settings yet?


5. Email

Some permissions may not have remembered giving... Credit: The Verge

Some permissions may not have remembered giving… Credit: The Verge

Remember when Gmail first arrived? We were all so delighted to have a free email service with virtually unlimited storage that we ditched Hotmail immediately. No more deleting emails! We all knew that Gmail would be able to read our emails, but it’s okay. It’s only Gmail reading them, right?

But we didn’t know that Gmail app developers would also be reading them! You have to explicitly give them access to do so, but how many of you actually read the T&Cs that you have to agree to?

So that hastily banged out email at the airport to your boss (and the subsequent email to your colleague complaining about your boss) could be being read by some Silicon Valley tech whiz… or forwarded to your boss.

Searching. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Searching. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

While it may sound like a bad idea that your mobile phone data is easily accessible, that’s also how David Kim (John Cho) manages to track down his missing daughter in Searching! In the film, David’s teenage daughter goes missing and it’s up to him to find out what happened to her by going through her online trail. Fortunately he’s tech savvy enough to navigate her social media accounts and online trail. It’s a harrowing thriller which shows David just how much he knew – or didn’t know – about his daughter. It’s race against time to see her survive.

How much Searching will it take before father and daughter are reunited?


Credits: The Verge, Google Maps, iPhone Photography, FamilyTime, Kalinga TV & Quartz,


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