It’s creepy. When I talk to my friends on call about getting new earphones, and the internet blasts me with ads. For earphones. Everywhere. It isn’t coincidence but all a result of our mobile applications going about with their tracking algorithms. (Though may be a cumulative result of other algorithms too, not just data from our voice recordings)
Researchers vouch for it too. It’s our smartphone listening to everything we say.
The microphone records everything we say, making use of our default settings. The recordings then are stored in a distant server and used for marketing purposes. This fact has now become common knowledge.
One of the best examples of your phone listening to you is the way Amazon harvests your voice data for targeting their ads. You can choose to stop these apps from listening to you by changing the app settings on your phone. It is not only your phone, but even your smart TV. It listens to everything you say. Now we don’t want our smart TVs to listen to our drawing room arguments, do we?
You may already know that it is quite legal for app providers to take your information that includes your voice. While asking you to allow permission for your features like camera, microphone, call logs, location, physical activity and even body sensors, the developer claims to be not abusing your information. Yeah, this is one of those things that we skip reading – like the insurance schemes disclaimers.
Some research suggests that the mobile phone may not listen or record what you say unless you ask them to, but they might be doing something that is equally threatening. Sometimes, the apps are even watching what you do, courtesy the audio and video capturing permissions we give them. This massively benefits advertising. Several researchers who had scripted conversations on phone calls saw changes in the advertisements on their Facebook profiles overnight.
You can get at a clear answer to whether your favourite platform is listening in to you, by checking out what is hidden in the User Agreement. Some of the apps would have clearly stated in their user agreements that recorded audio may be used for targeted advertising purposes. The user permission for microphone and camera access would allow them to push the privacy boundaries to make you buy a thing you don’t need. This is also the reason why you are able to use many apps for free. Your smartphone is similar to smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo, but doesn’t need wake words like “Okay Google” or “Alexa” to start recording. Smartphone manufacturers claim that the voice inputs that are processed aren’t sent anywhere, but in some cases, third-party apps like Facebook and Instagram will still have access to this local data.
How to stop your phone from listening to you
Turning off an app like Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa stops your phone from always listening and waiting for the ‘wake’ phrase. Apple says that this is processed locally on the device and your iOS device starts recording your voice only after hearing “Hey Siri.” Google has launched the new My Account tool that lets you access your recordings and delete them if you want. Users can tell Google to stop recording their voice for good. You can also choose to disable Facebook’s microphone access quite easily on the app setting of your phone. However, there isn’t any evidence yet to support the allegations that apps like Facebook and Instagram are listening to your phone’s microphone for advertising purposes.
We should be conscious that data has now become a commodity and act upon the assumption that someone is always watching what you do. However, certain reports also claim that this is all a myth, and there’s no need to get paranoid. Either way, always a reason to learn more. Get vigilant!