Know when your cell phone is listening, what it does with the conversations it listens to and if it’s legal for it to be doing it.
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have the cell phone listening has ceased to be a technological urban myth to be considered a reality.
We started by finding strange the coincidences of having talked to a friend about a specific and unusual topic and then immediately after receiving advertisements or online articles related to that topic and we ended up with the confirmation of several specialists in technological security that these situations were not mere coincidences.
Big tech companies are actually listening in on our conversations.
And, although services and applications such as Facebook or Google claim that they do not use the ambient sound of any device to target ads, the truth is that they can, especially if we have given you permission to do so.
They can do this, for example, through virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Google’s Alexa, who use the microphone of our cell phones to listen to what we ask them to do.
But also through the systems that allow us to interact with our mobile phone by voice to carry out a search, to activate a special command or to dictate a message.
How and when does our cell phone listen?
Your cell phone may be legally listening to your conversations if you have given permission to the applications you use to do so. For example, if you use virtual assistants like Alexa or Siri, or even when you use search engines with voice recognition.
If you say “Ok Google” on an Android or “Hey Siri” on an iPhone, you are starting this active listening that will allow the device to respond to your requests.
Some of the companies that run these assistants claim to randomly select small portions of users’ conversation to improve the quality of their artificial intelligence service and not to target advertising.
But the truth is that in this process they can record private data and there have been enough scandals with the sale of personal data to third-party companies to put us on our backs.
There is also the possibility that your cell phone is illegally listening to you through applications that have nothing to do with these virtual assistants.
It could be applications that did not inform you that they are doing so or even the case of viruses or ransomware that may have installed themselves on your device and that are controlling access to your microphone without you being aware of it.
In this case, it is impossible to know what might trigger active listening or what your conversations are being used for.
How do you know if your cell phone is listening?
If you are not a user of virtual assistants and do not usually control your searches or devices with voice command, it is unlikely that you have consciously activated listening on your mobile phone. But you could have done it without realizing it when installing a game or an application.
The frequent lack of transparency of some applications that create complex texts with the terms and conditions of operation is a real obstacle for users to be able to understand well which device resources the application will access once installed.
So, if you have doubts about whether or not your mobile phone is listening, we suggest the following test: choose a topic that you have never researched online, something that is very different from everything you are usually interested in online. Then look for keywords within that theme.
We recommend that you do not look them up online and that you use more traditional methods such as a paper dictionary or even a magazine. For example, choose a vacation destination you’ve never wanted to go to and you’ve never researched online.
Then just say those words out loud when you’re near your phone. Repeat them several times and wait to see if any advertising or article related to the topic appears the next day. If this happens, it is likely that your cell phone is listening.
How to avoid being heard?
The first thing to do is deal with legal eavesdropping and for that you’ll have to review your device’s settings and the applications you use most frequently. Try to figure out which ones have access to the microphone.
Always limit as much as possible the permissions that applications ask for, judging whether it is logical to provide these permissions. For example, it is not logical for an image editor to ask for permission to use your microphone, so be wary of that application and look for another that offers an identical service without asking for access to your computer.
As for users of voice recognition systems or virtual assistants, think about whether it’s really worth having them active 24 hours a day. If it’s not worth it, block access to the microphone when you’re not using it or choose to allow access only when the application is open or running.
With regard to illegal eavesdropping, if you maintain the usual security precautions that already protect you against viruses, you will also be able to prevent them.
For example, never install dubious applications, don’t touch or click on strange ads and monitor the performance of your equipment to see if it is using more data or more battery than usual, signs that a virus may be working in the background. background. Always install a good antivirus as this will be a good ally to keep your cell phone free from unauthorized eavesdropping.
And also remember that there is a procedure that never fails: keep your cell phone in another room of the house if you want to be comfortable in your most private conversations.
You can also use the method demanded by the famous Edward Snowden from the lawyers who advised him in the place where he was hiding: placing the cell phone in the fridge, blocking any access to sound data or the emission of such data from devices stored in the cold.