Is my smartphone listening to me?

Is my smartphone listening to me?

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re talking to a friend about your next holiday, for example, and the next time you use the search engine on your smartphone or one of the social media apps, you’re served up adverts about holiday destinations?

There are thousands of cases where people claim that they saw adverts on social media or search engines on a topic they’ve discussed face-to-face with someone. So how is this possible? Is your phone really “listening” to you via the microphone, without giving any indication that it’s doing so? In some cases, there appears to be no other possibility.

Only a few months ago Facebook was accused of gathering data on what people are talking about, to be able to target them with advertising. However, Facebook said that the ads displayed on its platform are based around information shared by members of the social network and that it doesn’t allow brands to target advertising based on microphone data. Despite Facebook denied all “allegations”, many users still believe that the social media app is listening to their conversations.

Is it a ‘coincidence’?

It turns out that there is a mathematical explanation which claims that there is no connection between what we say and what we see. These targeted adverts are just an example of our heightened perception, or the phenomenon whereby people notice things they’ve recently talked about. In fact, in his book ‘The Improbability Principle’, Imperial College London mathematics professor David Hand claims that people are more alert to things that are currently occupying their mind, such as topics of recent conversations. This makes them more likely to pay attention to ‘signs’ that somewhat indirectly refer to these discussions.

As yet, there’s no concrete evidence that we are being listened to through our smartphones.

Is there a way to turn it off?

With services like Siri or Google Assistant, your phone is always listening for a keyword, however, it doesn’t start recording your audio until it hears “Ok Google” or “Hey Siri.” At that point, it records and uploads an audio file. You can turn these features off quite easily; for example, on Android, go to Settings > Google > Search & Now > Voice and turn “Ok Google” detection off. And on iPhone and iPad, go to Settings> General> Siri> and locate the switch for “Allow ‘Hey Siri’” and toggle that to the off position.

But if you really want to make sure that social media apps like Facebook aren’t listening to your conversations, simply revoke their mic permissions. Here’s how you can do this: if you have the app on an iPhone, simply head to Settings > Privacy > Microphone and revoke Facebook’s access to your mic. On Android, find your way to Settings > Apps > Facebook > Permissions > and toggle off the microphone setting.

Have you ever been in a similar situation, thinking that your smartphone might be listening to you? Share your stories with us below!