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Why our smartphone apps listening to us is no big deal

Voicetech Alex Miller
by Alex Miller

Have you ever discussed purchasing a product, and then a little while later discovered that your social media accounts are showing you ads about the same product? It must be a creepy experience for many. People think that their phones and laptops are listening to them all the time. Let us have a look at how true that is and see if it is that a big deal or not.

The “phones have ears, and laptops have eyes” myth

As our smartphones are so prompt in showing us relative advertisements about anything we think or talk about, we tend to get suspicious about what they can hear and see. However, it is not true that our phones are secretly listening to us. When a developer writes an app for iOS, it runs on the Apple-controlled operating system. Facebook or Twitter cannot access your phone’s microphone and start recording without permission. Every time Facebook requests audio, you are asked if you want to give Facebook access to the microphone or not. If you permit them, only then it sends an audio stream to Facebook.

To see what permission you have given to each app on your iPhone, you can:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap on Privacy.
  • Scroll on to a category, such as a camera option.
  • You will find a list of apps that have permission to use your camera. You can toggle the switches to withdraw access from the apps.

For Android users, you can:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap on Apps.
  • Scroll down and click on a specific app.
  • The next screen would show you what permissions does the app has and allow you to turn them on or off.

Even if you allow certain apps access to your microphone or camera, it might not be as spooky and suspicious as one may believe it to be. A lot of people might not realize that they are trading their data and privacy for a free service. Most apps only use the information to give you better service. For instance, if you are looking to buy an air purifier for your home, you discuss it with your friends. Instagram will use the information to show you related ads about different brands and places that are selling air purifiers. It has benefits for the buyers and sellers both.

Advantages for the consumer:

  • It improves the ad sets. Consumers are not shown ads that they are not interested in or which might not apply to them. For example, you might not want to see advertisements for baby products if you are not a parent.
  • It helps consumers find the products they are looking for more conveniently. For example, if you are looking to find new shoes for the winter season, Facebook will show you various options while you are scrolling through it. You might find something that you like without spending any extra time on it. Your options would only be a link away.

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Advantages for the seller:

  • It optimizes ad costs. Running a commercial on television or putting on billboards, the ad can get wasted on consumers who are not interested. 
  • If they use the social media advertisement, the ad only gets shown to the target audience, especially those who are looking for that particular product. Social media advertising is also cost-efficient. 
  • Small scale businesses also have the chance to be seen on social media ads. They do not have to invest in big budgets for advertising their product. 

Apps using your microphone and camera for your benefit are making the consumers’ lives easy in these digital times. However, the problem arises when some apps sell the data they have collected to third parties. It is a valid privacy concern for many, but there are ways to avoid falling victim to it. All upgraded versions of iOS have an orange or green dot appearing on the screen. It is visible on the top right-hand side of the screen of your iPhone. Apple’s new iOS 14 operating system focuses on all these privacy concerns of the consumers. The orange and green indicator lights tell the users when an app is using your microphone or camera. It would help the users ensure that only the apps that have permission are accessing their phone’s microphone.

There are certain smartphone monitoring apps that people are using illegally. A few of these apps include XNSPY and Spyera. These are invisible apps that anyone can install on your phone by just having access to your phone one time. These apps can be dangerous because they give the spy access to all your private and personal information. For instance, XNSPY and gives the user remote access to:

  • Remotely turn on the microphone of the monitored device and listen to all the surrounding voices.
  • All the social media accounts on the monitored device: It includes access to all the sent and received messages and uploaded pictures on the phone.
  • The current location of the phone using the GPS feature.
  • The phone’s camera. That includes allowing taking screenshots from the camera and moving the camera remotely.
  • Phone conversations. The person who is spying can see your call log details and even download your conversations remotely and listen to them.
  • The sent and received messages on the monitored device. 

Apps such as XNSPY have been designed for the use of parents and employers. However, the apps have many loopholes that allow them to get misused if in the hands of predators. The invisibility of the apps makes them undetectable, so one can never know when they are getting monitored.

Have a look at some of the precautions that you can take to prevent someone from installing a spying app on your phone:

  • Never lend your phone to any stranger, even if they need it for only a minute. Spying apps can only take a few seconds to install and set up. If you have to share your phone with someone, make sure that it is done using the Guided Access feature. It restricts the person from switching over to another app or screen on the phone.
  • Keep a passcode on your phone. Make sure that you do not tell the password to anyone, including your spouse no matter how much you trust them. Having facial or biometric device-unlock security is not always the best ways to keep your data safe. For best security, always you a password, and that too a difficult one. 
  • Make sure that you keep changing the passwords of your email accounts, social media accounts, and phones every month.
  • Keep checking your phone settings to ensure that you have not allowed access to your microphone or camera to any app that you are not comfortable with.
  • Keep a two-step verification code on your phone so that in case a password is entered incorrectly more than once, the phone gets locked. 

Smartphone apps listening to you are generally not a big deal as long as you are particular about which apps you are giving access to. Technology is advancing every day, and it is up to the consumers to use it smartly so that they can benefit from it without having their privacy compromised. 

About the author

Alex Alex Miller
Alex Miller

I am a tech enthusiast, programmer and a sci-fi fan. I enjoy reviewing and researching new, innovative software that adds value to human life. I love writing about latest technology and trends, and have made this a full-time job.

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