Researchers: Smartphones' battery life is being used to track users' online activity

phones with the best battery life smartphone
Thanks to the rise of HTML5, your battery status may now provide a way for websites to track you online. Originally intended to allow websites to serve you a “low power” version when your battery is low, researchers now say it’s being used for more.

HTML5 added functionality that makes information on your battery life percentage and time to discharge, as well as how long it would take to charge your phone, usable by website developers. Security researchers warned last year that it could also be used to write code to track your online activity, and now a Princeton University research team was able to confirm that this is actually happening.

Researchers found two instances where code used the combination of the above information to track users across the site where it was found. Now we should mention that HTML5 is not sending a unique identifier with the information it’s sending about your battery, however the unique combinations of the numbers would give websites a way to match your battery information with your IP with fairly good certainty.

Why would this be important? These websites could improve targeting of their ads to you, or in the presence of an ad-blocker, even still be able to track your browsing habits through a built-in feature of your web browser. There’s a whole host of possible uses, but they all center around tracking you even if you’ve done your best to prevent it.

“Even [the] most unlikely mechanisms bring unexpected consequences from [a] privacy point of view,” wrote researcher Lukasz Olejnik, who was one of the security researchers who initially discovered the problem last year. “That’s why it is necessary to analyze new features, standards, designs, architectures, and products with a privacy angle.”

W3C, the standards body behind HTML5, is aware of the vulnerability and has been in contact with Olejnik and the other researchers. It’s less clear if the body intends to do anything about the issue, since it appears the only way to fix it would be to remove it altogether.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Walabot Home, a device aimed at keeping seniors safe, expands its capabilities

When you have to be away from your elderly family members, Walabot Home can serve as your surrogate. This device can detect when your loved one falls and will call for help — no wearables or user input required.
Mobile

Android vs. iOS: Which smartphone platform is the best?

If you’re trying to choose a new phone and you’re not sure about the merits and pitfalls of the leading smartphone operating systems, then come on in for a detailed breakdown as we pit Android vs. iOS in various categories.
Social Media

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. users don’t realize Facebook tracks their interests

Did you know Facebook tracks your interests, including political and multicultural affiliations? According to a recent Pew study, 74 percent of adult users in the U.S. have no idea Facebook keeps a running list of your interests.
Product Review

Controversy has dogged the MacBook Pro lately. Is it still a good purchase?

The MacBook Pro is a controversial laptop these days -- and that's unfortunate. Due to some divisive changes Apple made to the functionality of the MacBook Pro, fans are more split. Does the 8th-gen refresh change that?
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
Product Review

Origin's Chronos PC is no looker, but it plays games with eye-popping detail

The Chronos is Origin’s smallest PC, but while it occupies less space than most A/V receivers, it delivers the power of a much larger desktop. Its dull exterior design does the system a disservice. Once you turn it on, you won’t be…
Gaming

Can't stand keyboard gaming on PC? Here's how to use a PS3 controller instead

Properly connecting a PlayStation 3 Controller to a PC is no easy task, especially when you opt for third-party peripherals. Thankfully, our guide will help you through the process.
Computing

Zipping files on a Chromebook? Follow these four easy steps

Chromebooks support file compression, though they work a little differently than on Windows or Mac. Here's the step-by-step process to zipping files on a Chromebook, and then unzipping them again for extraction.
Computing

How good are you at spotting phishing scams? Take this quiz to find out

Are you able to discern between a legitimate email and one that's a scam designed to phish for your personal information? Google created an online quiz with tips to help you better understand phishing so you don't become a victim.
Computing

Yes, you can use Android apps on your Chromebook. Here's how

You can now get Android apps on your Chromebook! Google has enabled the Google Play Store app support on its Chrome OS and Chromebook hardware, so to get you started, here's our guide on how to get Android apps on a Chromebook.
Computing

Patent application reveals what’s to come after AMD’s Graphics Core Next

A published patent application from AMD has revealed a new type of graphics processor core which could make a big difference to the capabilities of its GPUs if it finds its way into them in the future.
Computing

Microsoft targets Chrome OS with $189 Windows 10 laptops for education

Microsoft announced seven new low-cost Windows 10 laptops, all priced under $300 to take on Chromebooks and iPads in the education market, along with a new Microsoft Allora stylus for students using the Surface Go tablet.
Computing

Lenovo patent hints at a future tablet with a folding screen

Folding devices are a new trend, and according to a recent patent, Lenovo is considering a foldable 2-in-1 with a hinge mechanism that would allow consumers to bend back the screen on the device.