How To

Is my phone listening to me? Yes, here’s why and how to stop it

a brown-haired woman speaks into her phone in a crowded setting, appearing to be using a virtual assistant app

August 15, 2022

Yes, your phone is listening to you — to an extent and namely through virtual assistant apps, that is. 

First came Siri in 2011, then came Google Assistant, and then Alexa and Cortana all followed. Each with the intent to serve users by listening to their demands, whether it’s making phone calls, sending texts, or adding items to a to-do list.

To this end, the question shouldn’t just be “is my phone listening to me?” Rather, you should also be asking yourself, “How much does my phone listen to me?” and “What does it do with the conversations it collects?”

Here, we’re addressing these queries and then some to get to the bottom of the are-our-phones-listening-to-us dilemma. 

Why is my phone listening to me?

a man and a woman sit in two green armchairs with a smartphone placed between them and a microphone icon hovering above to indicate that the phone is listening to them

Foremost, our phones listen to us to virtually assist us. That’s through voice assistant apps, like Siri and “Hey Google,” but also through personalized advertisements that follow conversations had on them. See, it’s no coincidence that you’re sometimes served advertisements that directly relate to a phone conversation you just had.

It’s similar to how search engines track our activity to ensure we’re delivered the most relevant results and advertisements. In this respect, you might think of your smartphone as a verbal search engine. These devices and the applications on them are capable of internet tracking, too. 

So, the next time you beckon “Hey Google” or Siri, know that it’s just like opening a browser window. And your data can be collected, oftentimes for advertising or marketing purposes. 

Is my phone listening to me legally?

Yes, it is legal for phones to listen to you. That’s because we often give consent for phones to listen to us when we accept terms and conditions of software updates or app downloads. Those conditions are usually that we’ll allow our data to be collected so that we can harness all the wonders and conveniences of voice-assisted programs and services. 

Worth mentioning is that phones can also listen to us illegally. That’s when users do not consent to be listened to and it’s often by way of spyware or other malware infecting smartphones. For this reason, it’s always wise to limit the permissions you provide to applications and review the terms and conditions of new programs that ask for microphone access.

Should I be concerned my phone is listening to me?

Generally, you shouldn’t be too concerned about your phone listening to you. Hey, you might even appreciate the personalized advertisements that result from it. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with your data being collected — it’s your data, after all — there are some ways to stop your phone from listening.

How to stop my phone from listening to me

three illustrations indicate how to stop phones from listening to us, including by disabling Siri and “Hey Google,” as well as not allowing microphone access to apps

Sure, just as you might cover your webcam, you can also cover your microphone with a piece of tape or purchase a special phone case to stop your phone from listening to you. But a more surefire approach is to review the microphone permissions granted across applications and also disable virtual assistants. 

In short, turn off your microphone to stop your phone from listening to you.

How to turn off your microphone on iPhone

If you’re questioning “is my iPhone recording me” or “is Siri always listening,” you’re best to at least know how to turn off your microphone on an iPhone.

  1. Navigate to Settings > Siri & Search
  2. Toggle off the following items:
    ○  “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’”
    ○  "Press Side button for Siri”
    ○  “Allow Siri When Locked” 
  3. “Allow Siri When Locked”Finally, when a pop-up window appears, tap “Turn Off Siri” 

And that’s how you disable Siri.

How to turn off your microphone on Android

To turn off “Hey Google” or to stop “OK Google,” follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to Settings Select
  2. Google > Account Services > Search, Assistant & Voice > Voice
  3. Select Voice Match and, finally, toggle off “Hey Google” 

And that’s how to turn off “Hey Google” and disable “Hey Google.”

How to disable microphone access across applications

In addition to turning off virtual assistant apps like Siri and “Hey Google,” you might want to stop other applications like social media platforms from accessing your microphone, too.

To disable microphone access on iOS devices, navigate to Settings > [a specific application] > Settings, and then toggle off Microphone.

To disable microphone access on Android devices, navigate to Settings > Applications > Applications Manager > [a specific application] > Permissions, and then select “Turn Off the mic.” 

5 privacy tips for smartphones

five icons represent ways to level-up privacy on smartphones so that our phones stop listening to us

Some might consider phones listening to them as a breach of privacy, while others might consider it convenient. No matter your stance, consider the following smartphone privacy protection tips.

  1. Verify the apps you download and only download apps from official stores. This helps you avoid third-party applications that can contain malware.
  2. Review app permissions to determine whether or not specific applications really need access to your microphone and, in turn, access to your conversations.
  3. Delete your voice request history on Google Assistant to ensure that this no memory bank of your conversation and to ensure your potentially sensitive information is not at risk in the event of a cyberattack.
  4. Consider using a VPN to encrypt your manual browsing activity, including your IP address, as an added layer of privacy protection.
  5. Keep your software up to date to stay ahead of cybercriminals seeking to exploit security vulnerabilities, as software updates patch these holes. 

If you’re concerned about marketers tracking your online activity, it’s smart to consider Norton AntiTrack, which helps keep your personal information and browsing activity  private by blocking trackers and disguising your digital fingerprint. Knowing how to take control of your devices also means you know how to take control of your data. At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether you want your phone to listen to you or not.

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