Is Your Smartphone Listening?

Meya Smith , Editor-in-Chief

Your smartphone is probably one of your most-used possessions. You carry it with you at all times, always ready to take it out of your back pocket to snap a picture, to Google something, or to call a friend. But have you ever noticed the strange coincidence when an advertisement for a product you were talking about the other day suddenly appears on your social media timelines? You’re not alone, many people report feeling anxious that their smartphones are always listening to them, and, to an extent, your phones and apps are recording the sounds in your everyday lives.


Time published an article titled, “Here’s How Facebook or Any Other App Could Use Your Phone’s Microphone to Gather Data” wrote of the statement given by former Facebook employee, Antonio Garcia Martinez, where he had explained that if Facebook was always listening to your conversations, it would reportedly have to store, “33 times more data daily than Facebook currently consumes.” A Facebook spokesperson was also quoted saying, “We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” the Facebook spokesman added. “We do not access the microphone just because the app is opened nor do we use it when you’re not in the app.”


However, the New York Times has released an article titled, “That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You’re Watching on TV” where it was explained that certain games on your smartphone are able to keep track of what you are viewing on your phone. The app being used to keep track of this is called Alphonso which is, “a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers. Using a smartphone’s microphone, Alphonso’s software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely and to try to analyze things like which ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership.” Games which use Alphonso are available to download on both Google Play and the Apple app store with more than 250 games that are “Alphonso automated.”


Though, within Alphonso’s terms and agreements, it does state that it does not ‘listen in’ using microphones and locations without the user’s agreement. So, if you decide that you no longer want your phone to be able to access the microphone and/or your location, the solution is fairly easy. If you have an Iphone with IOS 11 or higher, go to your and locate your privacy where you will find microphone. From there, you will be able to determine which apps can use your microphone. On Androids with Oreo 8.0 and higher, you start again in settings and from there locate apps and notifications, app info., and finally app permission. Apps such as Snapchat and Instagram will sometimes heavily use your microphone to create videos, however. To fully understand when and how your apps are using your microphone, you must read the terms and agreements. Many apps, though, will not use your microphone or location while it is not in use.


While it may seem to be invasive and may at times evoke feelings of paranoia, you may be comforted to know how you can be in control of what your phone keeps tabs on.