Are Smartphones Listening to Us? Understanding Siri and Other Assistants

July 10, 2018 •

Smartphones Listening

Are Smartphones Listening to You?

That strange feeling that someone is watching or listening to you without you necessarily being aware of them could be attributed to mere paranoia, or perhaps it is par for the course when you carry an iPhone or Android smartphone.

Since so many of us rely on our smartphones throughout the day, there is a treasure trove of sensitive information that the devices can access, sometimes whether we are aware of the eavesdropping or not. Read on for more information about smartphones listening in on our conversations and what companies could use the details for.

How Do Siri and Other Online Assistants Interact With People?

The way Siri and other assistants work is that they are waiting in the background until they hear you utter a trigger phrase, such as “Hey Siri,” or “Okay Google.” Then, the audio that your device’s microphone picks up will be heard by the assistant. This is convenient, since now the device will await your question or command, such as to tell you what the weather will be like or to remind you to pick up a carton of milk when you reach the supermarket.

But advertisers and other companies are interested in using mobile devices so they can engage more with end users. For example, a company called Alphonso developed code that wound up being used in more than 250 apps downloaded from online stores Google Play and the Apple App Store, according to the New York Times. Once a person gave the app permission to listen in, Alphonso listens to TV shows and advertisements, figuring out what consumers like in order to target mobile ads to them more precisely.

What About Facebook?

As to rumors that Facebook listens in on our smartphone conversations to serve up better targeted ads to end users, The Verge reported the company’s explicit denial that it does not do this, saying ads are displayed based just on profile information and people’s stated interests.

Still, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that whenever there is a microphone connected to a smart device like a mobile phone, there is a possibility that an authorized app or a hacker with malicious intent could take over the audio and listen in, recording sensitive information. Consumers can protect themselves by updating their devices whenever security upgrades are issued. They can further protect themselves by paying more attention to the permission they give to apps seeking approval to access private information, let alone their microphones or cameras.

Freeing up Your Hands When Speaking With the Digital Assistant

When speaking to a digital assistant with your smartphone, there’s no need for you to hold onto the device, especially when it would be more convenient to have both hands free. This is why so many people use a secure table mount to hold their phone for them. If you’re the type of person who makes a lot of hand gestures while you talk, you’ll definitely appreciate being able to use your smartphone unencumbered.