June 25, 2024

Innovation & Tech Today

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Are Your Smartphone Apps Listening to You?

In recent years, there’s been growing suspicions about the extent to which Facebook and Google are listening to us through our smartphones. These concerns have been fueled by a number of factors, including the fact that both companies have admitted to collecting audio data from users’ devices, as well as the fact that users have reported seeing ads for products that they have only spoken about, but not searched for online.

So, what’s the truth? Are Facebook and Google really listening to us? And if so, what are they doing with that data?

‘We Know What You Want’

Both Facebook and Google have denied that they listen to users’ conversations through their microphones. However, there is much anecdotal evidence suggesting otherwise.

In 2019, a former Facebook employee came forward with claims that the company was using its microphone access to listen to users’ private conversations. The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Facebook was using this data to target users with ads.

Facebook denied these claims, but they have not been able to completely dispel the suspicion that they may be listening to us. Almost everyone with Facebook on their smartphone has experienced telling someone they needed a product, only to be deluged with Facebook ads for that very product. 

In addition to the former employee’s claims, there have been a number of other incidents that have raised concerns about Facebook’s microphone access. For example, in 2017, a user reported seeing an ad for a pregnancy test after talking about pregnancy with her friends.

While it is possible that this was a coincidence, it is also possible, given the many abuses Facebook denied but were later confirmed, that they were listening to the user’s conversation and using that data to target her with an ad.

What Do Facebook and Google Do with the Data?

If Facebook and Google are listening to us, what are they doing with that data?

There are a number of possibilities. One possibility is that they are using the data to target us with ads. For example, if you talk about wanting to buy a new car, you may start seeing ads for cars on your social media feeds.

Another possibility is that they use the data to build profiles of us. These profiles could then be used to target us for marketing, or to sell the data to other companies.

Finally, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Facebook and Google use the data for more nefarious purposes, such as political surveillance or social control. Many have noted big tech workers with tape covering their smartphone’s microphones and cameras.

Can We Do Anything About It?

If you’re concerned about Facebook and Google listening to you, there are a few things you can do.

First, you can disable microphone access for Facebook and Google apps. This can be done in your phone’s settings.

Second, you can use a privacy-focused browser, such as Firefox or Brave. These browsers block third-party cookies, which can be used to track you across the web. Instead of installing the Facebook or Google apps on your phone, you could then access it through the browser.   

Third, you can use a VPN, which encrypts your internet traffic and makes it more difficult for companies to

Pexels/Dan Nelson

track you.

Finally, you could assume someone is always listening and be more careful about what you say around your phone. If you don’t want Facebook or Google to hear you, don’t talk about things that you don’t want them to know about.

It’s important to remember that Facebook and Google are not the only companies that are listening to us. A number of other companies, including Amazon and Apple, also collecting audio data from users’ devices.

If you are concerned about your privacy, it is important to be aware of the data that these companies are collecting and how they are using it. You can take steps to protect your privacy, but it is important to remember that there is no longer any such thing as perfect privacy in the digital age.

Picture of By Jim Daws

By Jim Daws

Jim Daws is Managing Editor for Innovation & Tech Today.

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