Imagine you’re having a simple conversation with a friend or family member. Your child wants a specific toy for the holidays, you’re thinking about trying a different hair product, you need a new pair of sunglasses.
Naturally, the first place you might search for these products are sites like Google or Amazon. But before you can even get to the search bar, ads are popping up on your phone screen for the exact products you were just talking about moments before.
It could be a coincidence, but it’s important to know for sure that nothing suspicious is going on.
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Are our smartphones always listening to us?
The answer really is yes and no.
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What are voice-recognition assistants and should I be concerned?
Smartphones often have built-in voice-recognition assistants that can help us find answers to questions, such as the Apple iPhone feature known as Siri. But these assistants are designed to listen to us only when commanded to (ie “Hey Siri, what song is currently playing?”).
How can I tell if my device is listening to me?
There are built-in microphones in every smartphone as well, and your device should warn you when its microphone is being used to record you. When your microphone is being used, an orange dot should appear in the top right-hand corner of your screen, just above your Wi-Fi and battery icons. You can also swipe down from the top of your screen to see which apps on your phone are using the microphone.
Your smartphone is also designed to track your data and search history.
This allows companies to send you personalized advertisements based on items you’ve clicked on or researched previously, baiting you to consume more of their products. It’s more of a tool they use to get you to reach into your wallet than to obtain your personal information.
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How can I limit my phone from listening to me?
Just because our smartphones can listen to us, doesn’t mean we have to let them. These are a few easy steps you can take to limit your phone’s listening access:
1) Turn off your voice-recognition assistant
How to turn off Siri
- Go to Settings
- Click “Siri & Search”
- Turn off the following options: Listen for “Hey Siri,” Press Side Button for Siri, and Allow Siri When Locked
- A pop-up window will ask if you want to turn off Siri. Click “Turn off Siri”.
How to turn off Google Assistant
- Go to Settings
- Select Google
- Click Account Services
- Click Search, Assistant & Voice
- Select Voice
- Select Voice Match
- Turn off “Hey Google”.
2) Turn off your microphone on all your applications
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How to stop your iOS device from listening to you
- Click Settings
- Scroll down to any application (Facebook, Snapchat, etc.)
- Turn off Microphone option.
If your phone has malware, scammers are listening
Finally, another important consideration. If your device is acting slowly, and you’re receiving strange popups on your phone, your device may be infected with malware. You may have accidentally clicked a link that looked legitimate when in fact it was a link to install malware. If you have malware, scammers can be doing a variety of things including monitoring you and installing software on your device that will mimic clicks and generate income for the scammer.
Lock up your tech
My biggest desire is to educate and inform you about the increased real threat to each of our connected devices and encourage you to use strong antivirus security protection on everything in your life connected to the rest of the world. The best way to protect yourself is to install antivirus software on your devices.
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