Is your phone eavesdropping on your conversations?

Marketing Team
4 minutes

Is your phone eavesdropping on your conversations?

Maybe, maybe not. Truth is it doesn’t have to, to learn everything about you. 

You’re probably no stranger to a situation where you’ve been talking about a new diet or perhaps a gadget you’d like to buy, and lo and behold, a few hours later as you scroll through your favourite apps, up pops an ad for the very same thing. Does this mean your apps are listening in on private conversations and using that information to target ads? 

The answer isn’t simple. In 2019, BBC News reported that a mobile security company conducted a study to test out the belief that phones were in fact gathering information from audio inputs. Their results showed that there was no evidence that phones were recording conversations or transmitting that kind of data. That being said, they admit that it might be happening in a way they haven’t figured out yet, but for the most part believe it’s unlikely. And there are several experts who would agree with them as there are many technical barriers to so-called “always on” listening.  

Some experts believe that we feel like our phones are listening to everything we say because of the way the human mind links incidents. For instance, you could talk about the new iPhone dozens of times and not get an ad, so you don’t pay too much attention. However, the one time you talk about it and an advertisement pops up, you immediately link the two. This is referred to as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. 

So, are phones listening in or not?

Yes, they do “listen”, perhaps not to what we say, but definitely to what we do. When we grant websites and apps permissions or allow cookies to track our activities, we willingly hand over information about ourselves. And as often is the case, websites partner with marketing companies and give them access to the information they collect. These agencies then classify and cluster this information and use recommender systems to target us with the right ads. 

Social media works in the same way using a number of techniques including reinforcement learning. They already have personal details like age, gender, location, etc. However, every view, like, share or search is a piece of information that we share about our interests and preferences. All of this is processed by algorithms that then proceed to flood our feeds with similar content or ads. If you search for ‘healthy recipes’, for example, you’ll notice that everywhere you look are suggestions for recipe videos, blogs and let’s not forget ads for cookbooks, online workshops and more. And it’s not just about us, the same algorithms can be used to recommend content based on what the people we are close to are interested in. 

Privacy is ours to protect

It’s a little scary to think about apps being privy to so much personal information. Our movements, browsing history, spending habits, private messages, interactions, interests, political views, relationships and pretty much anything we’ve inputted into our phones is tracked and stored. However, we don’t have to hand over our information on a platter, we have the power to say no. Here are a few things we can do to protect our privacy online.

  • Read terms and conditions clearly before granting permissions
  • Give permissions on an as-needed basis
  • Review app permissions regularly
  • Think twice before allowing cookies
  • Check privacy settings frequently
  • Avoid using social media accounts to log into other sites
  • Install a virtual private network (VPN)

Our digital lives are so entwined with our real lives, it’s difficult to keep track of what we’ve shared with a device or not and to feel fatigued and just yes to anything apps ask for. However, our personal information is valuable, and not just to us. Chances are it’s already being used to manipulate us in some form of the other. It’s time we became more aware of what we’re sharing with a device - whether it’s listening to us or not - and more protective of our privacy. 

At Doosra we help you protect your privacy by giving you the option to not share your private phone number with apps and websites while still enjoying all the services they have to offer. Find out how at