UK & World News
'Invasive' Virtual Assistant Apps Divide Opinion
So-called virtual assistant apps which search through a user's emails and travel preferences to predict needed information have sparked security concerns.
A useful tool say some people - but others are worried about how much information is being collected and who is able to use it.
A US study this year found that some of the most downloaded apps, including Angry Birds and Shazam, collect details like your location and the identity of your electronic device.
But this form of tracking is not limited to mobile phones.
For a few weeks this summer a number of recycling bins in the City of London were installed with technology to count how many people were walking past.
They did this by tracking the identity or MAC address of every mobile phone which connected to its wi-fi.
The trial of this technology has since stopped, but did raise concern about what data was being collected without permission.
The bins, which are fitted with a digital screen, are run by London firm Renew. Chief executive Kaveh Memari, said it was impossible for the technology to track individuals.
He said: "It's not about who that person is, technology wouldn't be able to pick that up in any case.
"It's simply about doing an aggregation of anything that has a chip in it and it could be a person or it could be a car. The system can't tell the difference."
Renew says it now intends to consult with the Information Commissioner's Office and advocacy groups to ensure that if further testing goes ahead, it complies with UK data protection laws.
Users who do not wish to be monitored can turn their wi-fi off although the vast majority of users do not do so.
It comes as mobile apps are becoming more and more sophisticated.
Tech giants like Google already have predictive search apps which trawl through emails, messages, calendars and travel preferences - to predict what information a user might want before they even realise it.
Ben Hammersley of the centre for creative and social technologies at Goldsmiths, University of London, believes these virtual assistant apps are clever devices which are great for busy people.
"I really like them," he said. "You have to give the information to the app, you provide it with access to your calendar and have to make sure everything is filled out properly.
"The app can give you advice proactively which you would find incredibly useful.
"It is not spooky. I think a lot of people get freaked out that there is this robot brain that's spying on everything they do. But it is a system of individual tricks which you have given your permission (for)."
But privacy campaigners are not so enthusiastic and are uneasy about how much of a user's personal information is being collected without them knowing.
Google has already got into trouble across Europe for collecting information from unsecured wi-fi networks while building its Street View mapping tool.
Nick Pickles from advocacy group Big Brother Watch is calling for tighter rules.
He said: "The danger now is that companies are still only beginning to understand how they can use this data so what we find are companies gathering as much data as they can only to figure out how to make money from it later.
"We are in a really dangerous arms race, where companies are tracking our location, our web browsing because somebody, somewhere might want to pay for it but right now they don't know who, so they are just going for as much data as possible."
Current UK legislation on data protection dates back to 1998.
Campaigners want this to be updated to ensure people's privacy is protected in line with the ever-developing technological world.