Is your phone listening to you?

Ki James
Ki James
March 8th, 2022

If you own a smartphone, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or nearly any kind of laptop, you are near a device with a microphone attached to it with the ability to transfer information over the internet whenever you’re around it. For the vast majority of people, this is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This, of course, raises the question - is it listening to you when you don’t expect?

What does it mean to be “listened to”?

It’s objectively the case that these companies are taking data from your microphones; however, it’s always claimed that they only keep track of information that you give when you’re actively asking your device questions, and know it’s listening to you.

Google and Amazon will both swear up and down that they aren’t abusing this information, but why do they even have access to it?

Just this August, Apple announced that it will be working with law enforcement to report offenders for being in possession of abuse content. This may not seem bad, but the precedent of a tech company colluding with a government to use the massive volume of information it has on each of its users to punish its citizens is terrifying.

In other words, it’s not clear at all how much and to what degree these tech companies are listening to you, or what that even means. With so much uncertainty, it’s a wonder that so many people volunteer to have their house bugged.

Can you stop it?

Google Homes, Alexas, your smartphones, and even your laptops should all have settings buried somewhere to turn off the microphone with ample online tutorials instructing you how - there’s no guarantee that this will be effective though.

The only sure way to keep them from spying on you is to not own these products, or otherwise break or render the microphone useless. In some cases, it could range from hard to impossible to confirm whether or not you’re successfully disabled the microphone.

Long term, pressure needs to be put on these companies to be more transparent about these practices, or ban them altogether.

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