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Is your smartphone listening to you?

phones listening

Can your smartphone listen to your conversations? According to the results of a recent YouGov survey, many people think they can.

YouGov surveyed over 2,000 UK adults on the topic of smartphones listening in to people as they go about their lives, and the results were very interesting. The majority of people surveyed believed that phones do indeed listen to you, and use what they’ve heard to create targeted adverts.

Around 66% of the respondents claimed to receive an advert for a specific product on their phone, a short while after discussing it in person.

However, only 22% of those people believed those ads were a direct result of their phone actually listening in on conversations. They suggested browsing habits and other online data as other reasons for the targeted ads.

Interestingly, it seems that the younger generation are more wary of snooping smartphones. Out of the respondents, 74% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they received ads that were “oddly well-timed” just after mentioning a product in a chat with a friend.

Out of the older respondents, those aged 55 or more, 54% also said they received targeted ads after mentioning a certain brand or product. But just 9% of those people thought the ads were a result of phones listening in on them.

The subject of smart tech listening in on its users' conversations is a controversial topic. Big tech brands, like Facebook and Google, strongly deny that they are eavesdropping on our discussions to collect data and generate targeted ads.

Targeted ads are adverts that you receive on your social media feed or web browser that are specifically tuned to products or services that you’ve shown an interest in. These are usually formed from your browsing habits, things you’ve searched for, online stores you’ve visited, or brands you follow on social media.

Google has previously revealed that its employees have listened to customer audio recordings from Google Home smart speakers. But it says this is strictly to develop its voice recognition technology and improve Google Assistant's artificial intelligence tech.

In a 2019 statement, Google said: “We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant.

“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.”

If you are worried that your smartphone is listening to you, changing the privacy settings on your handset might make you feel a bit more comfortable.

You can stop apps from accessing your microphone on iPhones by going to Settings > Privacy > Microphone, and then removing the apps you don’t want to have access.

Android phones may differ slightly, but generally the process will be the same. Just head to Settings, then Privacy and look out for Microphone settings.

Android users also have another option in the shape of an app called PilferShush Jammer. Available on the Google Play Store, this app claims to “block other apps attempting to utilise the microphone without your knowledge”. Its description states that it’s an “app made as part of research into audio counter-surveillance methods within the Android and IoT (Internet of Things) world.”

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