Your Phone Is Listening To You - All The Time

Big Brother really is always watching... and listening... and advertising.

You mention wanting to feast on a sweet stack of pancakes for Sunday brunch and the next time you open Instagram, there’s an IHOP ad staring you in the face. You complain about doing your own taxes to a friend at a coffee shop, your phone dutifully beside you, only to discover tax software displayed on your Facebook feed several hours later. A site store you Googled this morning is showing up on Twitter via Promoted Tweet by the afternoon, proudly declaring its 25% off sale (this weekend only).

These “coincidences” are becoming a rather common occurrence. Anecdotal accounts are popping up all over the place of IRL discussions leading to eerily corresponding advertisements featured on all our favorite social media platforms and search engines.

At first blissfully unaware of the problem, I started to notice the creepily on-point ads a few months ago but kept relatively quiet about it, fearing I was transforming into one of those bug-eyed conspiracy theorists. Items I never even searched for, only talked about, were appearing before me.

Not wanting to sport a tinfoil hat but also growing concerned about the accuracy of these ads, I broached the subject with a few close friends, ones I knew wouldn’t immediately lock me up upon hearing about my observations. But rather than judging me, they started reporting their own instances of this phenomenon to me. Even down to the specific brand of boots that were never searched for, only talked about.

App permissions automatically include your device’s microphone unless you manually change it. This is an open admission, but it’s completely unclear when a particular app is choosing to listen to you and when it’s taking the night off.

Go ahead and run some tests of your own, if you haven’t already. Brace yourself: things will turn from funny to a little frightening very quickly. Even the strongest of cellular addictions will soon weaken if this keeps up. As we suspected, Ron Swanson was right all along about going off the grid.

Some of us are still getting over the news that tech experts recommend everyone cover their laptop cameras. (Even the Director of the FBI has taped over his.) Having another thing to be paranoid about wasn’t really at the top of the priority list. But it’s best to know the facts. Right? Maybe?

Facebook has already openly admitted to listening to your conversations when your phone is nearby and the app is open.

The Zuck and his crew are actively and openly accessing your phone’s microphone, and they aren’t the only ones. However, Facebook insists that it does not use microphone data for advertising purposes. Hmm. We’ll see about that one I guess.

App permissions automatically include your device’s microphone unless you manually change it. This is an open admission, but it’s completely unclear when a particular app is choosing to listen to you and when it’s taking the night off.

Sufficiently freaked? You can attempt to stop this madness by checking the app permission settings on your phone. Some apps need access to your microphone in order to work properly, like Shazam or social apps with video-posting functionalities, so keep that in mind when turning off this capability.

But that doesn’t mean we need these applications to anticipate all our consumerist tendencies 24/7.

There’s even a microphone blocking app you can try, and depending on your level of paranoia at this point, you could trust it to do its job if you want.

Your phone’s listening ability isn’t ALL bad. There is a convenience factor associated with your phone really knowing your personality, or devices like Amazon Echo being customized to your particular context. We can be lazy with Google searches when our location is detected. We can find what we’re looking for even faster and easier than before when content is tailored to our idiosyncrasies.

Still, maybe it’s time to be a little cautious with what we choose to share, or at least keep it in the back of our minds as we’re jabbering on to family members.

This isn’t going away anytime soon, but taking advantage of its benefits while maintaining a modicum of privacy will be a trial-and-error process for most of us at this point. Maybe it’s time to take that silent retreat into the wilderness now. Getting mauled by a bear doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

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