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Just How Much Does Your Phone Listen to Sell You Targeted Ads?

Image for article titled Just How Much Does Your Phone Listen to Sell You Targeted Ads?

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Have you ever been talking about something with a friend, only to receive an ad for the same thing later? It makes you wonder whether your phone is listening to you and what you can do to stop it. But just how much do our phones spy on us?

Is your phone listening to your conversations?

The short answer is yes, your phone is listening to you, but not always maliciously. Most of the time, when you get an ad for something you haven’t searched for, it’s not because your phone heard you talk about it. The truth is that AI is almost just as good at connecting dots.

Everything you do online—from liking a photo, to watching a video, to following an account—leaves a record, and apps like Facebook collect all that data to send ads. In many cases, they use AI to connect data points to determine what you like, even if that’s something you haven’t clicked on before. And since data-mining companies sell their information, and apps have access to so much of our personal data, companies can interpret us pretty well even without explicitly listening.

In some cases, though, your phone legitimately does listen to you. Your mic is always on by default, so it can hear you use commands like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google.” While it may not record that data, it always listens, and some apps may use that feature.

Why your phone tracks you so much

All that data tracking is for one obvious purpose: marketing. The average person spends 85% of their time on their phone in just five apps—usually social media—so companies are willing to pay more to run advertisements on those sites in particular.

But remember that most of the time, targeted ads aren’t the result of apps using your mic data. If you truly want to stop apps from tracking you, you’ll have to disable all kinds of permissions, from location data to cookies. The most effective way to stay private is to remember that every action leaves a trace, and to be more careful about what you do online.

How to stop your phone from listening

If you want, you can stop your phone from listening if you want to take more control over your privacy. On iOS, open your Settings, then go to Siri & Search. Switch off “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’,” “Press Side button for Siri” and “Allow Siri When Locked,” and your phone will stop listening.

On Android, open Settings, then go to “Google,” then “Account Services,” then “Search, Assistant & Voice.” From there, tap “Voice” and switch off “Hey Google.” After that, your phone will no longer listen in the background.

Turning off voice assistants will stop any apps from using your voice data. However, some may have access to your mic when using the app. Thankfully, there are built-in features to help you notice these instances.

On iOS 14 and up, an orange dot will appear at the top of your screen when an app is using your microphone. You can then go into your Settings, find that app and disable its microphone access. On Android, open your Settings, go to “Apps & Notifications,” then “Advanced,” then “Permission Manager.” You’ll see what apps have access and can disable it from there.