Is Your Smartphone Listening To You: Do you ever feel like your devices are listening in on your conversations? Perhaps you have an offhand chat about a brand of toothpaste, then see an advert for it on social media days later. If so, you’re not alone – a recent YouGov survey found that over 3 in 5 Brits believe their smartphones listen to their conversations.
These fears aren’t new either. The rise of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana has forced many companies to clarify what they are and aren’t tracking, with Facebook just one tech giant to deny any wrongdoing. So, what’s really going on?
Can your phone listen to your conversations?
Yes, your smartphone does have the capacity to listen to you via its onboard microphone. It has to in order to hear your voice commands and assist you when making calls, asking questions and controlling your device.
Brands such as Apple and Google randomly analyse small portions of conversations to improve their voice assistant services. But this doesn’t mean they’re using this information to target ads. Doing that would demand a huge amount of resource.
In truth, most of us share so much information online that tech companies don’t have to listen in in the first place.
The power of big data
Most people allow “cookies” to track their activities when online. But brands now collect this information on such a scale that they’re able to create detailed stories about our backgrounds, likes and relationships.
As well as tracking what you look at and engage with and how you like to shop, these brands can judge who you’re close to. This means you may get served ads for products or services that your friends enjoy, despite you never searching for them before.
Classifying and clustering this information allows advertisers to improve their recommendations through AI. They don’t need to listen to your conversations to do this.
How to improve your privacy
If you’re still worried about technological eavesdropping, there are a few ways to tighten your security.
One of the best ways to protect your information and share less on your device and online is to download a smartphone VPN (nordvpn.com/download/android/). This software encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address so no one can see what you’re up to.
Another option is simply turning off your microphone. If you don’t use voice assistants or voice features on apps like WhatsApp, you won’t miss it if it’s disabled.
Alternatively, try reviewing your app permissions to pick and choose what you use your microphone for. If a photo editing app has access to your microphone, for example, it could have ulterior motives.
But for total reassurance, you could try chatting about random brands after turning your microphone off and denying all voice permissions. There’s nothing to worry about if you don’t see any suspicious ads after a day or two!
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