Is Your Smartphone Eavesdropping? Here's How to Protect Your Privacy

Having a smartphone brings with it a plethora of advantages. But did you ever wonder about the drawbacks that come with it?

The fear of your device listening to what you’re saying is no longer a far-fetched reality, it’s happening without most of us even knowing. Popular AI assistants, social media and productivity apps are to blame which are designed to serve users with quick replies to their queries.

Any app having access to the microphone could listen if you permit it to do so. That’s why we’re here to help with some tips and tricks on how to keep your privacy guarded and stop your device from eavesdropping.

Phones eavesdropping is not something new!

For starters, why phones listen to us is a debate that has been going on for years. The answer is simple. The device wants to make use of the data for the sake of personalized advertising so that you’re served with relevant ads that serves your interests. So that’s where your voice comes into play.

It’s just another tactic for companies to make money from users without attaining consent and breaching their privacy on a whole new level altogether.

Now the question is whether or not your device is always hearing you out? The answer is yes, surprisingly. The device is designed in a manner where it’s always hearing what you have to say technically. But the truth goes far beyond just that.

For it to actually hear you out, it needs to eavesdrop constantly and pick up on certain words. This is true for all phones with voice activation installed. Simple terms or phrases like ‘Hey Sir’ or ‘OK Google’ are just a few examples. Meanwhile, others like Alexa are always present to do the deed.

Does this mean that everyone else gets ignored? The answer is no! Smartphones make use of all kinds of data being thrown in their direction to develop a user profile so that you’re served the best ads in the business.

It’s amazing how the practice has been taking place for years and yet not a lot of us are aware. But wait, you can now keep yourself guarded at all times with the right privacy measures in place.

iPhones vs Android. Is there a difference?

Whether you’ve got an iPhone or an Android, they’re both capable of hearing what the user has to say and it’s sad how so much is taking place with no check and balance in place.

As far as Google’s Android operating system is concerned, terms like ‘OK Google’ are enough to get the device activated. Meanwhile, other keywords are also easily noted and recorded for future reference. Not everyone you speak to is getting recorded and sent to Google as not every single voice recording carries major ad value. Now what is said after these terms are spoken is key. It’s just like how your search or browsing history gets saved.

In some cases, the device could be activated by accident and end up recording sensitive chats or details from a user’s personal life. This could lead them to have chats with a pal about a certain fact linked to their lives.

As far as iPhones are concerned, it’s also listening to what you have to say. Siri was said to be one of the first assistants working virtually on a device and it’s listening to what you’re saying constantly. However, the device tends to select certain parts in a chat recorded by Siri to see how it can be improved.

The creators of iPhones were called out in the year 2019 when people started to complain about assistants hearing way more than they should and they were concerned about that in terms of privacy basis. Apple did claim that it cracked down on this front and admitted to the embarrassing situation, it raised a lot of questions in people’s minds in regards to how compliant it was for mobile phones today.

How is this legal when I never gave consent?

Now the other question worth mentioning is how legal it is for certain phones to hear what others have to say today.

Remember, phones are not only listening to you but phone makers are 100% able to do it legally. Now the question on your mind might be linked to how you never provided consent, right? No, you actually did, unfortunately.

Whenever you go about accepting terms and conditions for any kind of software update or app installation, you’re doing just that. It’s how a device works and how app developers collect user data. Be it audio commands or other kinds of web activity, the playground is huge to attain user data. Now is that fair or not is another topic altogether. But the fact that it’s taking place and considered legal is overwhelming, to say the least.

Now if a device can hear you legally does not mean it should be doing that in the first place. Similar to how you link a device online, your phone could have malware infected which tracks the user’s identity. This is why it’s a great idea to restrict permissions and double-check before signing terms and conditions.

What can I do to prevent my device from listening to me?

Android Users

If you’ve finally come to the conclusion that this practice of your phone listening to you is not right, then we’ve got news for you. It’s time to create the right digital boundary with a few easy steps.

To start, you need to get rid of all malware from your phone. You need to begin by getting rid of suspicious platforms/apps that give away too much to begin with.

Sometimes there are instances when you never need to give an app the microphone access, so in that case you can simply revoke/remove access to microphone, for example, if you've never used Google Chrome or ChatGPT's voice command feature then you can safely remove the microphone access on these apps.

You can even turn on safe mode on device. This means no third-party apps would be running in your device’s background. For that, simply press and hold the device’s power button until you see the power off display/screen. Now press and hold the "Power off" icon and it will reveal a Safe mode screen, now press the safe mode and your device will reboot and get into the safe mode. (To turn off Safe Mode on an Android device, pull down the notification panel. If your phone supports this feature, you'll see a "Safe mode enabled" notification. Tap this notification to turn off Safe Mode, and your phone will automatically restart to normal mode.)

Another common strategy to use is resetting the device’s browser to factory settings or getting rid of downloads in the history. Or simply factory resetting the whole deice. As a whole, you’ll be doing yourself a great favor with these proactive measures that prevent the device from being infected. Other than that, experts do recommend anti-malware applications or making use of the company’s Play Protect features by going to settings.

Disabling Google Assistant on Google Maps and Android Auto

Believe it or not, Google also hears what you’re saying through some of its most popular apps. This is Google Assistant across Google Maps. The same is the case for Android Auto which you can simply switch off.

All you need to do is enter the settings on the device and say ‘Hey Google’ followed up by ‘Open Assistant Settings’. This provides prompts for turning off the assistant by clicking on settings and then the General Tab.

You can access Google Assistant through the phone’s Maps app. For that, simply open the platform, click on the profile image, and press Settings. You can select Navigation and toggle that off access to the Assistant by pressing on OK.

iPhone Users

If you have an iPhone, you’ll be amazed at how a simple step can allow you to safeguard yourself from your own device listening to you. Siri is the biggest culprit here so you’re better off switching it off.

Simply go to your device’s settings and tap and Siri and Search. Next, turn off listen to ‘Hey Siri’ and then long press the side button designed for Siri and allow Siri when locked. Once that’s done, press on Turn Off Siri seen across the Pop-up.

In case you are worried about the phone malware on your iPhone device, simply restart the device and clear the browsing history. Another easy tip is to back up the device and restore that to factory settings.

Top 5 privacy tips for all smartphone users

While we tried our best to cover the basic measures iPhone and Android users can take to ensure they remain guarded at all times, here’s some more great advice from the experts.

  • Always delete your phone’s voice request history

Did you know that Android devices featuring Google Assistants have a memory back of what’s said and done? Yes, you need to delete your voice request history as soon as possible. This also keeps you safe in the unfortunate incident of a cyberattack and also makes sure sensitive data remains safe at all times.

  • Ensure timely software updates

As days go by, cybercriminals are getting ahead of the security game. This is why stopping them from exploiting your security and privacy must be attempted with timely software updates that keep your device working at optimum levels.

  • VPN is your best friend when it comes to privacy and security

The best-added layer of security and protection that you can give your device is through a VPN. This adds encryption to ensure all personal data sent out and received is secure including passwords and bank details.

  • Only download apps after careful verification

We’re surrounded by apps of various kinds but did you know that not all of them can be trusted? Experts recommend downloading from trusted and verified sources only and that means resorting to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

  • Don’t forget to review application permissions

No matter how much in a hurry you might be, sparing a few extra minutes to read your app’s terms and conditions is always recommended. This helps you evaluate if the app really needs access to your microphone and in turn your chats or not.

Remember, a little precaution goes a long way here so we recommend making the most of these tips today.

Read next: Meta, Amazon, Apple Most Impersonated in Phishing Scams: Study
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