Is my Phone Listening to Me?

By: Echoda Daniel

Do you ever wonder if your phone is listening to you? Like, you were just talking to a friend about the kind of car you like, and you bring out your phone to log in to Instagram or Facebook, and voila! The next ad you see is about cars — the kind you were talking about. Is it coincidental, spiritual, or technological

Well, your phone is in fact listening to you and it is technology. Not only your phone, smart TVs, smart light bulbs and even smart vacuum cleaners have been said to be able to spy on users and collect a range of data about them. So there is nothing coincidental about seeing ads about  conversations you have had with someone; it is simply one of the perks of recent technological advancement.

Then you may wonder what some of these devices do with the data they collect. You do not need much explanation for that of your phone; amongst other things, some applications use the data they collect in the process to give you ads that better suit you. In the case of Amazon workers, they are said to listen to people’s conversations with Alexa, transcribe those pieces of information and feed them into an automated-decision making system. As for the television set, multiple reports suggest that, in theory, they are indeed capable of collecting audio data. It is however not particularly clear what the data collected are used for or where they are sent to. But in utmost good faith, generally the aim of developers when they get these data is to help provide you with better services

So how do they happen? They are made possible through the permissions you give to apps when you install them on your devices. With the aid of the on-board  microphone in your phone, these software, when active, collect information which they store for other purposes. For some, it does not even matter whether you are connected to the internet or not; when your mobile data eventually comes on, the information your phone has accumulated will be sent accordingly

This is where it gets dicey: in a recent development, some Israeli researchers have been noted to have developed software that modulates electromagnetic radiation in the hardware of some of the devices we use. Also, the same group of people have been attributed with the ability to steal data through heat emissions from computer systems.  Save yourself the boring details of that, but know that it is possible

Feeling like you no more have privacy and that you are being monitored? Well, it is the least you can do. In fact, in the United States of America, the FBI reportedly warned people to be wary of hackers who make use of these features in our devices to take control of television sets

There is no illegality in the ability of your devices to listen to you. However, those who make these devices have promised that they would not abuse it as they respect users’ privacy. This, of course, excludes spyware and other malicious software which hackers install on your devices illegally, without your consent, in order to access some of your sensitive information.

The good news, however, is you can always reduce the extent to which your device spies on you by simply deactivating those voice-assisting software or applications in your devices. Most of those voice assistants have the “always on” feature and they constitute the biggest threat in this regard. They include Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and the “Hey Siri” features in your iOS devices. For you to use them, they have to always remain on. Turning them off will help mitigate your device’s spy power

On a flip side, you may choose to enjoy the ride. Targeted ads, for instance, which is one of the advantages of these listening features in your device, sometimes come in handy; you may not need to disable them. It is the 21st century, at least. Besides, you stand to lose out on other numerous benefits like handsfree operations, time-saving automation etcetera, which come with using them. Not worth your privacy? The choice is yours!

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