Your Phone's NFC Chip Isn't Secretly Tracking You

Inside your smartphone, hidden underneath the sticky plastic wrapping of the battery, or glued to the removable rear cover, there's a secret, ominous-looking wireless chip. It's not controlled by the FBI or the government or the Illuminati, though, and it's not tracking every search you make online -- it's just NFC.

A few days ago, a concerned citizen from Melbourne posted this video to Facebook.

everything we've been searching on our phones have been recorded.. 

In it, he talked about a symbol of the "eye" or the "eye of Horus" coming up on his Samsung Galaxy S4 whenever he booted up the Web browser and ran a Google search. Suspicious, he pulled the battery out of the phone and found a thin, plastic sheet with a set of coiled wires on it embedded in the battery's surround. A chip running "embedded code". With that chip removed, apparently the phone ran just fine and the eye was gone.

In reality, though, it's two completely separate pieces of technology, neither of which is remotely insidious or even especially secret. The chip itself is just the antenna for your smartphone's Near-Field Communications wireless chip -- it's the same technology in your PayPass or PayWave credit card, Opal transport card, or the RFID card you might use to access your office or apartment complex's security doors.

NFC is just a communications standard that allows short-distance recognition of a receiver and transmitter when the two are brought within a couple of centimetres from each other. In Android phones, NFC can be used for anything from transferring files with Android Beam, emulating a Tap 'n' Pay credit card, or for kick-starting a Bluetooth sync with a wireless speaker like the UE Boom.

And the eye? That's Samsung's proprietary Smart Stay and Smart Scroll, both of which use your smartphone's front-facing camera to track your eye movement when you're browsing the Web -- so your phone won't lock itself while you're in the middle of reading text but haven't tapped the screen in a while. Smart Stay is a bit annoying, but it's definitely not the guys in black helicopters using your Android phone to monitor your life. [Facebook]

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