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17th Jan 2024

Here’s how to stop your mobile phone from listening to your conversations

Simon Kelly

Phone tracking

Here’s how to increase your privacy.

We’re all aware of the anxiety around our phone listening in on our conversations, especially after you notice an ad for something you were just talking about seemingly in private.

Research from NordVPN suggests while companies like Meta and X aren’t listening to our conversations, advertisers most certainly are, through what is called cross-device tracking.

According to the published research, cross-device tracking is a marketing strategy that tracks users across multiple devices, such as their phones, smart TVs, tablets, and personal computers and luckily it’s possible to opt out of it.

Here’s how to stop your mobile phone from listening to your conversations

Nord VPN explain that the techniques involved in cross-device tracking include the likes of cookies, tracking pixels, and device fingerprinting, which all link user activity across multiple devices.

However, the most concerning part of the strategy involves using ultrasonic beacons that are inaudible to the human ear but use high-frequency sounds to ‘link all the devices you own to track your behaviour and location’.

An example used in the research is when you’re watching an ad for toothpaste on your TV and then, a few minutes later, browsing on your phone only to find the same ad.

Basically what happens is your phone’s microphone will receive these high-frequency beacons from your TV (if it has permissions enabled) and play the same ad.

This can happen through a variety of apps on your phone which notably ask for permission to your phone’s microphone.

Phone tracking

NordVPN’s Adrianus Warmenhoven explained: “While it’s impossible to stop the ultrasonic beacons working, you can reduce the chance of your smartphone listening for them by simply restricting unnecessary permissions you have granted the apps on your device.”

A good tip to follow is to go into your phone’s Settings menu and look at the permissions options for all of your apps, seeing which ones have access to your microphone – which you can easily switch off if you know where to look.

It is also advised to read up on privacy policies for various apps and sites that request to use your data. While it can be tedious to do so, those among us who are more security conscious would benefit from taking some time to actually scan through the policies.

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