Big Brother may not be watching us at home, but there is a good chance he’s listening; what with all our Apple devices with built-in microphones. I know. Paranoia, right? But that’s a good attitude to have if everyone is out to get you.
Sapna Maheshwari says your phone might be listening to you even when you’re not using it to talk to someone somewhere. Think about the number of devices you own which have a built-in microphone. Amazon Echo and Google Home, of course. Their business model is to extract personal information from your life and sell it or use it to sell you more goods.
Guess what? iPhone, iPad, Watch, Apple TV, and your Mac all have built-in microphones, too. Under the right circumstances each one could listen in on what we hear wherever we may be. Maheshwari describes a few innocuous games which continue to track their users (Google Play Store apps or iOS App Store apps):
These apps, once downloaded onto a smartphone, have the ability to keep tabs on the viewing habits of their users — some of whom may be children — even when the games aren’t being played.
Uh oh. Now I understand why people use Post-it Notes or masking tape to cover their Mac’s camera, and why those little camera tapes get such high reviews on Amazon. Big Brother is knocking at the door.
The apps use software from Alphonso, a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers. Using a smartphone’s microphone, Alphonso’s software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely and to try to analyze things like which ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership.
Here’s how to see which applications on your iPhone or iPad have asked for and received permission to use the built-in microphone. Open Settings, tap on Privacy, scroll down to and tap on Microphone. That’s the list of apps with the ability to listen in on whatever sound it can hear. My iPhone has a really long list of apps– Skype to WhatsApp to Cortana to Google Chrome to YouTube to Instagram, Facebook, and many others.
Alphonso is one of several young companies using new technologies to enter living rooms in search of fresh information to sell to marketers. For all the talk of digital disruption in the ad world, television still attracts almost $70 billion in annual spending in the United States, and advertisers will gladly pay to amplify and analyze the effectiveness of that spending.
In other words, those turned on microphones listen in and determine what is playing on television (or, ostensibly, radio or anything else generating sound waves that can be identified) and thanks to your IP address, that information can be coupled to more personal information about you– information which is valuable to advertisers and stalkers.
If your device has a built-in microphone then it has the ability to listen to you when you’re not expecting anyone to listen.
It might be a good idea to keep your iPhone out of the bedroom and bathroom and turn on the blender when you want to say something important to anyone nearby.