Skip to content

Does Your Phone Listen to You? Yes, and Here‘s What You Can Do About It

Have you ever noticed that after having a conversation about something obscure, suddenly you start seeing ads related to what you were discussing? Or has your phone‘s voice assistant like Siri or Google Assistant ever seemed to activate itself at random times, making you wonder if your phone is listening to you?

You‘re not alone. In fact, according to a recent poll, over 54% of smartphone users believe their phones are listening to them without consent. With the rise of smart devices and voice assistants, concerns over our phones listening to us have become increasingly common. While tech companies claim they only listen for specific wake words, many people feel their privacy is being invaded as their phones seem to pick up on conversational topics and serve related ads.

So is our phone spying on us? Should we be worried about our privacy? And most importantly, what can we do to protect ourselves? This comprehensive guide examines the truth behind phones listening to users, the legality of it, and actionable tips you can take starting today to safeguard your privacy.

Why is My Phone Listening to Me?

Let‘s start by looking at why our phones may be listening and recording things we say. There are a few key reasons this occurs:

  • Voice assistants – All voice assistant apps like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and others have to be constantly listening for their wake words in order to know when to activate. So they are passively picking up sounds in your environment all the time.

  • Ad targeting – Just as your online behaviors are tracked to serve relevant ads, your voice data can also clue companies into your interests to target ads. In fact, over 65% of marketers use conversational data for ad personalization. They want to show you useful products and services based on conversations you‘re having.

  • Service improvement – Companies claim analyzing voice data helps them improve their products. For example, Apple and Google state they review Siri and Assistant recordings to better understand requests and tweak how their assistants respond.

  • Accidental recordings – Sometimes devices mishear words or background noise as their wake words, causing them to activate accidentally and record conversations not meant to be heard. One study found Google Assistant was accidentally activated 19 times in a single day in the average home.

So in summary, while you may not constantly be recorded, your phone picks up on and analyzes voice data to understand you better both for advertising purposes and product improvement.

Is My Phone Always Listening?

Given phone microphones have to be on to detect wake words, does that mean they‘re listening to everything we say? Not exactly, though some listening and recording does occur beyond wake words:

How Android Listening Works

  • Android devices are passively listening for "OK Google" or other set wake words to know when to activate Google Assistant.

  • Specific keywords and conversations after the wake word may be recorded and analyzed to improve service and targeting. For example, Google admits to recording conversations with Assistant for up to 20 seconds after hearing the wake word.

  • Accidental recordings can happen when background sounds are misinterpreted as the wake word. By one estimate, this occurs over 20 times per day on average for Android users.

  • While not recording all conversations, Android devices do pick up on some voice data for ads and service improvement. Experts say they are listening even when not actively recording.

How iPhone Listening Works

  • iPhones are always listening for "Hey Siri" or set wake words to activate Siri when commands are spoken.

  • Apple states portions of recordings are randomly selected and reviewed by contractors to improve Siri‘s quality. Roughly 0.2% of Apple device recordings get reviewed.

  • In 2019 it was revealed contractors heard many accidental recordings of private conversations not intended for Siri, sometimes up to 30 times per day.

  • So while not literally listening to all conversations, iPhones do capture voice data that may be sampled beyond wake words. Apple admits Siri is always listening for its name.

In summary, while your phone isn‘t recording every single thing you say, it is analyzing voice data for multiple purposes beyond just wake word activation. This still poses privacy concerns for many users.

Is It Legal for Phones to Listen to Me?

Given the privacy implications, is it even legal for phones to listen in on users? Unfortunately the answer is yes.

You likely agreed to voice recording when accepting your device‘s terms of service. Reading terms is admittedly tedious, but doing so helps you understand what you‘re agreeing companies can do with your data. According to experts, even if you did not expressly agree, these practices are legal in the U.S. as long as they disclose them in their policies.

However, just because it‘s allowed doesn‘t make it feel less invasive. And recordings intended only for service improvement can still capture private conversations accidentally. That‘s why it‘s important to take steps to limit company access to your voice data, even if they technically can listen.

How to Stop Android Listening

If you want to restrict Google and Android apps from listening to you, here are steps you can take:

Turn Off Google Assistant

The primary way Google records your voice is through Google Assistant. Turning this off prevents it from listening for its wake word or analyzing requests.

To disable Google Assistant:

  1. Open your Android device‘s Settings app.
  2. Tap Google > Account services > Search, Assistant & Voice > Google Assistant.
  3. Turn off Google Assistant by tapping the slider button.

Experts say this is the most effective way to limit Google‘s voice data collection on Android.

Disable Voice & Audio Activity

Google stores your voice and audio activity for product improvement unless you turn this off.

To disable voice & audio history tracking:

  1. Go to myactivity.google.com while signed into your Google account.
  2. Click Activity Controls.
  3. Turn off both Voice & Audio Activity and Web & App Activity.

Use Anti-Malware Apps

Spyware apps could also listen in without consent. Install highly-rated anti-malware software like Lookout Security & Antivirus or Norton 360 with LifeLock Select to detect and disable sneaky apps. These will run frequent scans to protect against eavesdropping malware.

Manage App Permissions

Be selective in which apps get permission to use your microphone, camera and location. Disable access to sensitive data for any unused apps. According to a Consumer Reports survey, around 30% of apps request more personal data permissions than they need for their functionality.

Additional Ways to Limit Android Listening

  • Turn off Google‘s location tracking and ad personalization to limit data collection.
  • Use Android‘s App Ops feature to manually deny microphone access to apps.
  • Install privacy-focused smartphone OSes like GrapheneOS or LineageOS.
  • Utilize a firewall app to block apps from accessing your mic when not in use.

How to Stop iPhone Listening

To limit iPhone eavesdropping, these steps will help safeguard your privacy:

Turn Off Siri

As the key way Apple collects voice data, turning off Siri prevents unnecessary recording.

To disable Siri:

  1. Go to Settings > Siri & Search.
  2. Turn off Listen for "Hey Siri", Press Home for Siri, and Allow Siri When Locked.
  3. Select Turn Off Siri to confirm.

Disable Improve Siri & Dictation

This settings shares Apple device audio to enhance Siri and dictation. Switch this off in Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements.

Reset Advertising Identifier

Resetting your ad ID prevents ads from linking to your interests. Go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and tap Reset Advertising Identifier.

Use a Firewall

A firewall blocks suspect processes from accessing your microphone. Top options like Lockdown and Guardian Firewall add an extra privacy layer.

Additional Ways to Limit iPhone Listening

  • Turn off location-based iAds to avoid localized ad targeting using your location data.
  • Frequently clear your caches, cookies and history to delete any tracked usage data.
  • Install anti-malware software to detect any spyware apps listening without consent.
  • Use a VPN to encrypt traffic leaving your device and mask your IP address.

7 Phone Privacy Tips

Beyond limiting listening, here are more ways to take control over your mobile privacy:

  • Use a VPN – A VPN encrypts all activity on your device to anonymize you and prevent tracking. Look for VPNs with a strict no-logging policy.

  • Toggle Location Services – Only allow location access when using certain apps to avoid constant tracking. Limiting location data can decrease invasive ad targeting.

  • Clear Cookies and Data – Wipe your browser history, caches and cookies to eliminate tracked webpage visits. Do this regularly to thwart surveillance of your browsing habits.

  • Read Privacy Policies – Better understand how your data, including recordings, is used by reading app privacy policies. Be wary of apps wanting unnecessary permissions.

  • Use Privacy-Focused Search Engines – Alternatives like DuckDuckGo don‘t profile you to serve targeted ads. Switch your default search engine for improved privacy.

  • Limit App Permissions – Be selective with which apps can access sensitive phone features like your camera and contacts. Disable permissions for apps you don‘t fully trust.

  • Keep Software Updated – Updates often patch security vulnerabilities and privacy issues in operating systems. Enable auto-update features when possible.

FAQs About Phone Listening

Some common questions about phones listening include:

Are phones recording all my conversations?

No, phones are not literally recording everything you say. But they are analyzing voice data beyond just wake words for ad targeting and product improvement purposes.

Can I stop my phone from listening at all?

There is no way to completely stop your phone from listening, as voice assistants have to actively listen for wake words. But you can limit unnecessary recording and analysis with the steps provided above.

What proof is there my phone is listening?

While concrete proof is hard to come by, many have experienced oddly targeted ads for products they simply spoke about, suggesting phones analyzed those conversations. Tech companies admit to some voice data collection.

What are the risks of my phone listening?

The main risks are loss of privacy, your voice data being hacked, and accidental recordings of private conversations. While tech companies need some voice data for functionality, many feel current practices are too invasive.

Take Control of Your Mobile Privacy

While phone manufacturers claim listening practices only enhance user experience, many feel uncomfortable with how much voice data is collected and analyzed. But you need not feel powerless over your privacy.

This guide provided actionable steps to restrict unnecessary recording on both Android and iPhone devices. Taking charge of your permissions, utilizing security tools, and being mindful of when your microphone is on are some ways to keep your phone‘s listening in check.

Though staying completely off the grid is near impossible in our digital age, you can still minimize your digital footprint with some knowledge and proactive effort. Don‘t let privacy concerns keep you from enjoying the convenience of a smartphone. Use the tips in this guide to find the right balance between utility and peace of mind when it comes to your phone listening habits.

nv-author-image

Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.