Is My Phone Listening To Me?

Saw an advert for a product you were just talking about? Here’s why it happens.

It can be freaky seeing a product on an Instagram ad when you were just chatting about it to your pal. “They’re listening!†you may hear people say — and they’re not totally wrong either.

From Black Friday deals to downright weird items, no one’s safe from a targeted ad. We’ll explain why and how you can stop your phone from listening.

Can phones hear?

In short, yes, it probably is. But there’s much more to this than meets the eye (or ear…we’re not sorry).

When you go on a website, you’ll often accept “cookiesâ€. Cookies, in short, allow you to save certain details – but they can also grant third-party cookies access to the site’s data. This is generally an advertiser or marketing company. The data an advertiser is interested in is the way you browse the site.

Google listens to you through microphone access, much like Siri. They’re usually set to “always listening†so they can speak up when asked to. What you ask is saved too (you can access your archive on your smartphone).

Why is my phone listening to me?

You may be wondering why your data is important to advertisers and why sites are interested in how you browse. Does your phone listen to you for ads? Is there another motive?

Basically, your phone listens to build a picture of you. It helps determine who you are as a person down to your hobbies, likes, dislikes, your job, and much more.

This way, advertisers can target the right ads, so that you’re more likely to click on what they’re advertising and buy from them. Whether that’s for yourself or someone else.

On the contrary — a post by @shityoushouldcareabout on Instagram showed a Twitter thread by privacy tech worker @RobertGReeve on how companies really collect data about you.

So can phones hear? In short:

  • Apps collect data on your location, device and demographic

  • Companies pay serious money for all kinds of data – down to where you redeem discounts both online and offline

  • With this data – they can find your social media, especially if you’ve used the same email to sign up

  • They can also monitor who else you’re close and start showing ads based off others’ interests too

  • This way – it can spark up conversations about products you were shown when you’re around these people. Even if the products are unrelated – because you’ll likely talk about them after exposure

So whilst the collection of your data, in a bigger picture sense, is harmless – we totally get why it raises eyebrows.

Is it legal for my phone to listen?

Yes, it’s legal for phones to listen. So long as advertisers, site owners and developers don’t abuse your data, they’re allowed to access your browsing habits and those of others around you.

Plus, you’ll have consented to these services listening to you without realising, just to get access to an app or site. Always be mindful of apps that don’t require your microphone, e.g. a photo editing app asking for microphone access.

Apps listening to you, especially ones that shouldn’t require access, is an immediate .

Some of this may not sit right with you and that’s completely understandable. Based on tons of behavioural market research, this is how we’re more likely to spend our cash. Essentially, it’s business.

But if you’re really not comfortable with the idea, here are some ways to stop your phone from listening to you.

How do I stop my phone from listening to me?

Before you frantically google “how to stop my phone from listening to me†you’ll be pleased to know we’ve got you covered.

1. Deactivate Siri

To disable Siri on an iPhone or iPad. This may appear differently depending on the model, but generally, just follow these instructions:

1 – Go to “Settings†then “Siriâ€

2 – Toggle off “Listen†for “Hey Siri†and on all activation points

3 – Tap on “Turn Off Siri†in the pop-up.

Alternatively, give this super helpful step-by-step video tutorial a watch:

2. Deactivate OK Google

Unfortunately shouting “stop listening to me google!†won’t cut it. Again, this will vary on your Android device – but here’s how to deactivate OK Google:

1 – Go to “Settingsâ€

2 – Select “Google†> “Account services†> “Search, assistant & voice†> Voice.

3 – Select “Voice Match†and toggle off “Hey Googleâ€.

3. Disable microphone access on apps

If you have apps that need microphone access, disable these in their respective permissions within your app settings.

4. Check your Alexa settings

Echo (and Siri) devices operate by “always listeningâ€. Here’s how to stop Alexa from listening:

1 – Press the microphone button on your Echo device to stop Alexa from listening right away.

2 – When the button or indicator light is red, it means Alexa is no longer listening.

3 – Stop recordings being sent to Amazon by going into Settings on the Alexa app > “Alexa privacy†> “Manage your Alexa data†> “Don’t save recordingsâ€.

Read: Tech You Never Knew You Needed For Uni

Tips to protect your privacy on a smartphone

1. Only download accredited apps

Apple only allows certain apps on their store and has to go through an approval process. Android apps, on the other hand, are far less moderated.

It’s a safe(r) bet to assume apps on both stores are likely to have more security, so we highly recommend cross-referencing the apps you want on both platforms.

2. Delete your voice request history

Supposedly, Siri no longer saves voice history, but Google Assistant/OK Google does. Here’s how to delete your voice requests on your Google account.

  1. Go on “Settings†> “Google†> “Manage your Google accountâ€

  2. Tap “Data & privacyâ€

  3. Under “History settings,” tap “Web & App activity†> “Manage activityâ€

  4. Above your activity, tap “Delete†> “All timeâ€

Use a VPN

A VPN encrypts your browsing data and hides your personal information, IP address, and more. It hides what you do online and where you are — keeping you safe! They’re fantastic at keeping you safe when browsing on the go too.

Check out NordVPN discount codes on Student Beans!

Only connect to trusted Wi-Fi spots

And use a VPN if you’re connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot outside of your home. If in doubt, use your 4G or 5G mobile data.

Update your phone

While this might be boring, your phone could be at risk of data exploits if it doesn’t have the latest security updates. Don’t put you and your personal information at risk – just update your phone as soon as the new patch is available.

Upgrade your phone with our phones and tech deals!

Is my smartphone listening to me all the time?

You’re not paranoid — your phone really could be listening to you. The term “listening†may not always be in the traditional sense via your microphone. It could be by other permissions you’ve consented to, such as site cookies.

So yes, your smartphone will listen to you all the time. Provided you leave permissions on, you’ll continue to get targeted with ads on topics you may have discussed out loud, or browsed online.

How do you tell if your phone is listening to you?

Want to test if your phone is listening to you? Here’s a sure-fire way to tell.

  1. Think of a topic you’re sure you haven’t discussed before. It could be something totally random, but above all do not search the topic in any way shape or form.

  2. Disable microphone access from all of your apps (refer to our tips above to ensure your phone has less chance of listening in).

  3. Talk about the topic in some way over a few days with your phone on you. You can talk about this alone or with someone else in the room.

  4. Check your phone after a few days whilst browsing to see if any ads come up about the topic you thought of.

  • If nothing comes up, then you’re in the clear. If it came up, then there could be app permission you haven’t turned off yet.

And there you have it. Phones listening in aren’t always a bad thing, but we get how creepy it is. Tell us about the weird items you’ve been targeted with over on our Twitter page!