Your phone really is listening, but you can stop it
June 10, 2020

Most people have thought, at least once or twice, that maybe their smartphone is listening in on their conversations.

You chat with a friend about taking a vacation to Nantucket, let’s say, and the next thing you know, your phone is brimming with ads for all the fun things to do in Nantucket.

Many smartphones work like this – the device’s microphone is typically set to “on” in default settings and so can be recording aspects, or key phrases, of your conversations.  Are those phrases used to target marketing? Opinions vary.

However, a reporter investigating the issue, experimented by saying phrases twice a day for five days into his phone. Sure enough, his Facebook page would pop up with ads reflecting the phrases, according to multiple sources, including a report in USA Today.

If this concerns you, technology experts suggest you check your User Agreement for information on how your device’s recorded information can be used for targeted ads.

Of course, if you’d like to turn off your phone’s microphone you can by going into the Settings. If you do, it’s important to note that “wake words,” such as “Hey, Siri,” which needs the microphone “always-on,” won’t be activated, said a recent news report.

To turn “Hey Siri” off and restrict the amount of data from being stored and uploaded, go to Settings, then Siri & Search.  Scroll to “Hey Siri” and click Off.

You can also disable “Ok Google,” which, like other voice-activated programs, records your questions. If you have an Android, open the Google Assistant Settings and follow the prompts after you say “OK Google” or hold down the phone’s home button.

If you want to prevent Facebook from listening to you, you’ll need to do more than turn off your smartphone’s microphone.  Check your privacy settings on the social media site to learn how to protect your profile.

Remember, however, if or when you turn off Facebook’s microphone, it will affect or prevent features such as Live Video. When you reactivate the microphone, the feature will return.

Alexa, the well-known voice assistant developed by Amazon, was found to be recording users’ requests, storing them and having them analyzed. As a result, Amazon made significant changes to Alexa to better protect users’ privacy.

If you have questions about smartphone safety and how it may apply to you, please contact one of our tax advisors at Diamond & Associates CPAs. We are here to help!



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