Can Smartphone Apps Listen In on You?
You probably know exactly how this works – you mentioned buying a new laptop yesterday, and now you’re seeing laptop ads the moment you get online.
How is that possible? Is your phone secretly listening to you? Do you think it’s feasible that we’re being continuously recorded by our apps? In this article, we’ll try and find out the truth.
It’s Certainly Possible
Before getting deeper into the subject, let’s state a simple fact: apps absolutely have the ability to listen to you.
Most apps will require access to your mic when you install them on your phone. If you give them permission, then, in theory, they could listen to you if they wanted to. This is particularly true for apps like Chrome, Facebook, Amazon, Snapchat, TikTok, and others.
They’ll bombard you with ads all the time, and since these are the apps people use all the time, it can feel like they’re relentless in trying to push targeted ads on you. So, they must be listening to you all the time, right?
But It’s Not Very Practical
Experts have done some research on this topic. In one particular study, Northeastern University in Boston tried to see if they could catch some of the smartphone apps in the act.
The study covered over 17,000 most popular Android apps, and the results showed that not a single one of them activated the phone’s microphone or leaked any data.
Cybersecurity experts tend to agree with this finding and add that listening and recording smartphone users isn’t the most practical of way to gather information.
Primarily because that process requires a lot of translating from audio to text and would also need enormous amounts of computing power.
These tactics are only employed when it’s on a government-based level, and the target is not just the everyday consumer.
Why Does It Feel Like They Are Listening?
Even with hard data that shows that apps aren’t exactly listening to you, some people might still not believe it. Sometimes the speed at which an ad pops up on your Instagram feed seems way too suspicious.
You just mentioned that you love one shoe brand to your friend, and here they are, reminding you to click on their page. Companies like Google and Facebook might not be listening to you, but they definitely make it appear that way.
That’s because they have other, super-efficient ways to learn everything they need about you. We’ve all surrendered the right to our privacy anyway, whether we like to admit it or not.
These apps have access to your personal info such as birthday, credit cards, and most of them also track your location. Facebook also regularly monitors your browsing history and not just within Facebook.
They can track what you put in your shopping cart and which websites you visit and how often. In the Northeastern University study, they found that thousands of Android apps take screenshots secretly and tend to record your activity on the phone.
However, in most cases, we make it easy for the apps to target us. As Silicon Valley has discovered and profited from, humans are much more predictable than they’d like to think.
So, your phone and apps already know everything you like and will continue to spam you with ads because that’s how they make a profit.
How to Protect Your Privacy Online
Even if you don’t have anything to hide, it’s still important to protect your privacy online as much as possible. If targeted ads make you uncomfortable, there are some things you can do to mitigate that.
One of the ways to go is to use a safe browser and an encrypted email provider. You can cover your laptop and phone camera if you’re worried that your device and apps might also try to video record you as well.
If you’re anxious that apps might be listening to you, turning off the microphone on your phone will give you peace of mind. You can use a safer texting app and make sure that you never over-share, regardless of who you’re talking to.
If They Are Listening – What Would You Do?
The issue of whether the apps you use are listening or not is a complicated one. It also doesn’t have an answer regarding what to do if it that is indeed the case.
No one likes the idea of such a massive invasion of their privacy, but if Google and Facebook came out tomorrow with a statement that confirms this suspicion, what could anybody do?
Do you think apps are listening to us? Let us know in the comments section below.