Is the smartphone you keep in your pocket or purse eavesdropping on your private conversations?
Our Verify team listened to your questions on the topic and did some digging.
It’s a frightening thought: Could the powerful microphone on your cell phone be sending what you say to a third party? You take your cell phone everywhere: To the office, the store, the car, the bedroom. Is Siri listening to what you’re saying? And if so, will she tell anyone?
We dialed up the experts: University of Houston information systems professor Dr. Chris Bronk and the “High-Tech Texan” Michael Garfield.
“Quite simply, if you think about it, these personal devices can do everything for us, and yes, there is audio capability,” Garfield said. “I want you to think about it every time you ask for Siri or say, ‘OK, Google.’ It listens to us.”
But what if the phone is just sitting there? Can it pick up on private conversations? Can data about what you are saying be sold?
“The simple answer is your cell phone is designed to listen to you,” Bronk said.
Bronk says Google owns the patent to this listening technology, but it has made it a company policy that users must say a command first or press a button to activate any audio recording.
“The phone is not listening to your conversation to serve up ads,” Bronk said. “Could it be subverted? Yes.”
Bronk says there have been a few well-known hacks of devices with microphones, but as to whether the legitimate companies are listening to your secrets, that’s false.
The experts say for added protection, you should be careful about what sort of apps you are downloading to your phone, and make sure they are legitimate. You can also turn off access to your phone’s microphone and cameras for different apps.
And, if you’re really worried about it, you can turn it off.
Dr. Chris Bronk, University of Houston information systems professor
Michael Garfield, High-Tech Texan