Surely you have ever discussed a product with someone, then opened the Internet or a social media application, and then saw advertisements in front of you for what you were talking about a while ago! You are not alone, we are all this person, and we have all faced this scenario, and this made us point the finger at these applications, and that they are eavesdropping on us and listening to the conversations that take place between us. But despite these doubts, the report in our hands says that the reality is completely different: your phone is not eavesdropping on your conversations.
The myth of phone tapping
The common belief that your phone's microphone is constantly active, capturing your conversations and selling that data to advertisers, is a widespread myth. This misconception was exacerbated by marketing and advertising company CMG Local Solutions' false assertion last December, saying: “It's true. “Your devices are listening to you.”
However, this statement was debunked by 404 Media, which said that this company is spreading misleading information. As a result, CMG Local Solutions removed the false claim from its website.
The origin of the myth of phone tapping
The origins of the myth about phone tapping and overhearing conversations can be traced back to a news segment broadcast on May 23, 2016, which reached thousands of viewers and discussed concerns about a feature on Facebook that allegedly allows the platform to eavesdrop on conversations. This news was further disseminated through an article published a few days before the television broadcast. It was likely this initial report that contributed to the spread of the myth, and raised public concerns regarding privacy and technology.
“So, be careful what you say on your phone,” the 2016 article said. “Facebook isn't just monitoring your cell phone, it's listening to it.” But this article that originally talked about Facebook listening to conversations has been removed from the website of news channel WFLA 8. It was the first major article to spread the idea, according to Gizmodo.
Even though the article has disappeared, people still believe in this idea even after eight years. The article referred to expert Kelly Burns, who works at the University of South Florida. But she clarified immediately afterwards that she meant that Facebook was tracking users' actions online, not listening to their conversations. She stressed that Facebook was watching and not listening.
Why in 2016?
The emergence of the myth about phones eavesdropping on conversations in 2016 was not a coincidence, but rather related to Facebook's intense focus on targeted advertising during that period.
In August 2016, The Washington Post reported on a significant expansion of the personal data points available to advertisers on Facebook, with a total of 98 new data categories. These included details such as age, gender, race, and even the value of the home.
Facebook's tremendous growth and $1 trillion valuation can be attributed to its highly effective targeted advertising capabilities. Marketing companies have come to prefer Facebook in the first place. Because of its unparalleled access to user data compared to other platforms.
However, Facebook's handling of user data has been controversial, culminating in the Cambridge Analytica scandal just two years after the eavesdropping myth gained traction. Given Facebook's history of privacy violations, it wasn't too far-fetched that people would think Facebook was also listening to their phone's microphone.
The spread of the myth was later exacerbated by Vice in 2018, when they published an article titled “Your phone is listening, and it's not just fiction.” While the article later clarified that phones do not constantly record conversations, but only activate when triggered by specific wake words like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google,” this headline contributed to the persistence of this misconception.
Why is this myth so widespread today?
This myth has spread a lot in the past eight years; Because it looked real. Users do get highly targeted ads on Facebook and Google, but not because your phone is listening to you.
You're probably sharing more information with your phone than you realize. For example, while you may have discussed planning a trip, you may have searched for flight prices, a product, or asked Siri something. Additionally, you may have searched on Instagram. All of these actions provide data that advertisers can use, and you're probably revealing more to your phone than you know.
There's plenty of evidence to suggest that advertisers can use search queries, social media use and cookies to build a very accurate picture of you. This information is tracked by advertisers, so they don't need your microphone.
However, researchers from Northeastern University tackled this myth in 2018, finding it to be a complete failure. They tested Facebook, Instagram, and more than 17 other apps, and researchers found no cases where an app would activate your microphone and send audio without asking the user to do so.
On iPhones, an orange dot appears at the top of the screen when the microphone is in use, providing users with a visual cue to activate it. Despite this advantage, the myth that phones eavesdrop on conversations persists and gains momentum. However, the real concern lies in the fact that advertisers don't necessarily need to record conversations. They already have extensive knowledge about users, making the need for audio monitoring unnecessary.
So there is no evidence that phones are eavesdropping on our conversations in an unauthorized manner. Apps rely on the user's permission to access the microphone, and operate within specific policies and laws. It is worth noting that many studies and analyzes have not found any evidence of these practices.
Looking at this report, we find that it may contradict reality, and most of us are not convinced by it. It is very likely that some applications are eavesdropping on the phone’s microphone, which helps them target ads accurately. Reports from security experts revealed the existence of malicious applications that are used to spy on users through their phone microphones, and sell this data. NordVPN has warned that some apps are being used to track users through audio signals that cannot be heard by the human ear.
Voice recognition technology allows apps to analyze the audio recorded from the microphone and learn what is being said. This technology is used in many applications, such as voice assistants, translation applications, music recognition applications, and others.
Many users have also noticed that the ads that appear to them on their phones are related to topics they have recently talked about. Some took this as evidence that apps were eavesdropping on their conversations.
However, it is important to emphasize that:
◉ Not all applications listen to the phone's microphone.
◉ The user can control the permissions he grants to applications, including access to the microphone.
Tips to protect yourself from eavesdropping:
◉ Don't grant apps more permissions than necessary.
◉ Use apps from trusted sources.
◉ Use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
In the end, it is not possible to definitively say how widespread the phenomenon of applications eavesdropping on phone microphones is. But it is advisable to follow cautious steps to protect yourself from any potential risks.