It used to be that anyone who mentions devices spying in on their users was subject to taunts of conspiracy. Until Snowden and other whistleblowers blew the lid on the massive network of devices that organizations like the NSA listen in on. Now, people know better. They’re aware that the chances of their devices listening in on them are pretty high.
And not only from intelligence agencies, either. Foreign governments like Iran and China, manufacturers, and various hacking groups have joined the party. Moreover, the US government is now working on approving new bills that violate people’s privacy. They consider eliminating end-to-end encryption. And they aren’t the only ones undermining their citizens’ rights to privacy either. China, for instance, has no scruples about spying on its citizens and has done so for years.
But how likely is it that someone’s device could be listening in on them daily? And why would strangers want to? Let’s explore the ways it can happen today.
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Different Ways Devices Spy on You
Assistant services are everywhere these days. They are a native feature on smartphones and come in the form of specialized devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. The problem is, a device or feature made to listen to people’s voice commands are also going to — surprise, surprise — listen in on people.
A while back, Google’s smart home hubs came under fire for recording their surroundings. The devices were listening in on people and saving all their conversations on Google’s servers. Google also admitted that they have human teams who review these audio recordings — though not all, of course.
Google isn’t the only company listening in on their users either. Apple had to issue an apology the other day because the employees were snooping on private Siri conversations.
So why would these companies be listening in on their users? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. Many speculate that it’s so they can gather even more info on their users to sell products to them. Others say that they’re collecting information to sell to other entities, like the government. Right now, they’re sticking to the quality control schtick.
Mobile Phones and Computers with Built-In Microphones
Pretty much every modern smartphone comes with a built-in microphone. Most laptops also have built-in microphones. Then there are the standalone ones as well as the headsets that come with them attached. Basically, having microphones in one’s house is almost unavoidable.
There may be some cases where the manufacturers of these devices also have built-in backdoors that let them spy on people. The public case of Huawei that ended up getting the brand banned in the US is one example of this.
But they aren’t the only risk to people who have devices with microphones at home or the workplace. Hackers are also a significant threat, and they’re relentless. From creeps who call themselves “ratters” and spy on women via their webcams and microphones, to hackers that collect personal information. They can use the information they gather for all sorts of things, including knowing when people are home, and when they aren’t.
These scummy people usually manage to gain access to people’s microphones via malware and infected downloads. Which brings up the next point…
Software and Apps
Many mobile users tend to download apps on their mobile phones without realizing the danger. Of course, people are starting to catch up to the fact that malware can reside in apps. They are becoming more selective with what they download. But the danger is still real.
Malicious apps and software can do some real damage. And remember, even once someone deletes an app, the company or any criminals involved still have their data.
How to Get More Privacy
Things may seem dire, but there are a few steps people can take to protect themselves:
- Disable microphones and webcams when not in use.
- Cover cameras with a piece of tape to make sure that any criminals who do manage to get in can’t see anything.
- Be prudent about how many devices you have throughout the house and office. Remove any that are redundant or not in use and disconnect them from the internet.
- Be aware that IoT devices are a massive risk too. Use a VPN to encrypt their connections and the IP address. It limits the data others can gather. It is also handy for computers and smartphones. Though go for a trusted VPN service like NordVPN and never download a free one (they’re generally involved in some form of data collection too).
Privacy is getting harder to come by, and it’s important to take some of it back where possible. It may seem inconsequential sometimes, but keep in mind that it wouldn’t be happening if entities couldn’t use that information. Big data may be the new digital currency, but try to limit how much of that data you give freely away every day.