Is my phone listening to me? Yes. Here’s what to do

Yaron Dror

May 06, 2024

  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection

If you’ve ever been chatting about a product you want in earshot of your phone only to see a browser ad for that item later, it can seem like too close a coincidence to ignore. You may wonder, “Is my phone listening to me?”

This thought isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. 

Phones are just one of several devices that now include virtual assistants, and they collect data to help users access the information they need on demand. For that reason, your phone does listen to you — to an extent. 

Here’s everything you need to know about what your phone hears, how it uses that data, and what you can do to control how much this device tracks.

Is my phone really listening to me?

Your phone does listen to you as a way of helping you. The virtual assistant on your phone (like Siri or Google Assistant) hears your commands through a microphone, enabling you to start calls, play music, or turn on a timer. 

Since companies like Apple or Android obtain permission to collect specific data on you for marketing purposes, they consider it fair game to send you an ad for your favorite band’s latest release after you ask Siri to stream one of their tracks.

While your phone’s “eavesdropping” may have good intentions, companies like Apple and Google have come under fire for listening too closely. Apple stopped reviewing random snippets of conversations from Siri when it realized it was accidentally tapping into too much confidential information, and Google followed suit.

Why is my phone listening to me?

Your phone listens to you to make your life more agile. Here are three types of listening your phone may do and why they benefit you: 

  1. Fulfilling virtual assistant requests: If your phone didn’t listen to you, virtual helpers like Siri, Alexa, and Google Voice wouldn’t be able to cue up a kitchen timer or stream the playlist you ask for. Phones hear your verbal commands and turn them into actions. 

  2. Marketing to you: Marketers want to reach the right audience with their ads, and sometimes that target is you. Companies use what your virtual assistant hears when communicating with you to show ads that align with your interests in your web browser or even social media apps.

  3. Helping you browse: Some of the virtual assistant requests you make require an online search. Over time, your phone’s assistant becomes better at putting the right search results in front of you based on your preferences and location — just like type-in browsers do.

Is my phone legally listening to my conversations?

You consent to let your phone and certain apps on your device listen to you when you grant microphone access and accept the terms and conditions that permit this behavior. The trade-off of using voice-activated virtual assistants like Google Voice, Alexa, or Siri is that your phone must listen to your conversations with the assistant to provide answers. If you have concerns about what data your phone or applications can legally collect, read the terms and conditions on your device or apps and revoke certain permissions if you feel you’re sharing more than you’re comfortable with.  

Phones can be pawns in illegal spying practices, too. This isn’t the work of Siri or Google Voice but malicious actors who plant spyware on your phone without your knowledge. Typically, this lands on your phone if you click a malicious ad or download a compromised file, making it all the more important to watch your digital behavior. Once the malware is on your phone, criminals can listen to your conversations or even read your text messages

How to test if your phone is listening to you

If you use a voice assistant, you don’t need to run a test to determine whether your phone is listening to you. It is. 

But if you don’t use these features and want to determine whether your device is eavesdropping, watch for ads on topics you frequently talk about within range of your phone. If you start seeing correlations between conversations and ads, your phone (or an application) may be using your data to send you targeted marketing. Chances are you, if you see this, you consented to this activity, so check out the terms and conditions of your phone’s software or any applications you use to reevaluate the permissions you’ve granted.

Just know that some platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, might be tracking your online behavior through cookies and browsing history to show you targeted ads. If it’s not your phone listening, check the specific privacy policy of the platforms you’re using to see if they’re the ones tracking your activity. 

How do I stop my phone from listening to me?

Unless your phone has a virus that allows a criminal to eavesdrop on you, you should be able to stop your device from listening to you by turning off the microphone. Here’s how to do so on iPhone and Android phones.

How to turn the microphone off on an iPhone

Stop Siri from listening to you with the following steps: 

  1. Go to Settings.

  2. Select Siri & Search.

  3. Deactivate these three features: Listen for “Hey Siri,” Press side button for Siri, and Allow Siri when locked.

  4. Confirm your choice by tapping Turn off Siri in the pop-up.

How to turn the microphone off on an Android

Turn off Google Voice’s “ears” by turning off your mic: 

  1. Open the Google app.

  2. Tap your profile image in the upper right-hand corner.

  3. Select Settings.

  4. Hit Google Assistant.

  5. Tap General.

  6. Deactivate the Google Assistant feature.

Even if you turn off your phone’s voice assistant, other applications can still listen to you if you’ve given them permission. Review the permissions on applications with microphone access and turn this feature off as desired. Remember that some apps need microphone access to function correctly — like your camera if you record a video or your text messaging app if you want to send a voice note — so you may be unable to limit your phone from listening entirely.

6 extra tips for protecting your privacy

Turning off microphone access is an excellent way to limit how much your phone can listen to, but there’s more you can do to protect your privacy. Here are a few more best practices for limiting “eavesdropping”:

  1. Never download shady apps: Resist the temptation to download an application that doesn’t come from your device’s official app store, as cyber criminals may use these programs to monitor your activity. Consider non-vetted programs that require microphone access a threat to your privacy. 

  2. Check out your permissions: You can view which applications can access your microphone, and it’s smart to check this routinely. If you see an application you don’t recognize in the list with mic access, it could be spyware that eavesdrops on you. During this exercise, you may also notice legitimate apps that don’t need microphone access have it, and you can turn this feature off to limit their listening capabilities.

  3. Scan for malware: Use a spyware scanning application on your phone to detect and remove malware. Malicious programs often run unnoticed, so scanning for them is a proactive way of catching and deleting them as soon as possible.

  4. Delete Google Voice’s history: Google Voice allows you to delete your request history, and doing so routinely can prevent companies from turning your data into marketing directives or stop cyber criminals from getting their hands on it. Plus, if someone gains unauthorized access to your device remotely or steals it, this would keep them from seeing your search history. 

  5. Enable features to remotely deactivate your phone: Activate your phone’s localization feature, like “Find My” on iPhones or “Find My Device” on Google phones. This lets you remotely disable access to your phone if your device is ever stolen or lost.

  6. Keep hackers out of your phone: Take preventative measures against hacking. Update software regularly, as newer versions often contain security patches for known issues, and never connect to public WiFi networks you’re not sure you can trust, as they could be gateways for data interceptors. Finally, consider getting a VPN for your phone, as some encrypt your data, making it harder for hackers to use it.

Protect your privacy with IronVest

You can limit how much your phone’s voice assistant and applications listen to, and doing so may prevent third parties from accessing your data — legally or illegally. But you can take additional measures to limit your device access and ensure that you’re safe from data theft if a cyber criminal compromises your phone.

Get IronVestand get into the habit of using everyday privacy tools like masked phone numbers, masked email addresses, and virtual credit cards that you can use in your online transactions to avoid ever giving third parties your real personal information.

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