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Your phone isn't secretly listening, but you oughta check those privacy settings

29 January 2020 5:10 PM
Is your cellphone eavesdropping on you?

There's a perennial online debate about whether Facebook and Google are listening to our conversations on behalf of advertisers.

Many social media users around the world claim they've seen pop-ads on their timelines after having off-line discussions about specific products or services.

Tech expert Toby Shapshak says this is a long-standing hoax.

According to Shapshak, it's highly improbable that Facebook or Google secretly tap into a device's microphone to serve hyper-targeted adverts.

However, the tech giants do 'listen' to your behaviour in other ways.

Voice assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon Alexa can be activated by certain keywords, Shapshak explains.

He says most pop-up ads on Facebook are targeted based on your online search history.

This is why Shapshak uses an internet search engine called DuckDuckGo, instead of Google, because he says it has greater privacy filters.

RELATED: Why you should seriously consider deleting WhatsApp from your phone

There's no doubt that Facebook and Google, and just about every other website, is snooping, listening to us and watching our behaviour. That's how they make their money.

Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief - Stuff magazine

If you look at Facebook permissions, especially on Android, they have access to enormous amounts of your personal information.

Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief - Stuff magazine

Whether they are listening to your microphone on your phone is highly improbable. It's a long-standing hoax.

Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief - Stuff magazine

The chances are that you probably Googled it or mentioned it messaging.

Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief - Stuff magazine

He warns that social media users should be more worried about the privacy settings on the platforms they use as the world moves towards the surveillance economy.

Shapshak says users should not switch on their voice assistant when the phone is not in use.

Furthermore, he stresses the importance of changing your Facebook permissions to tighten privacy settings.

People don't have to worry about their phones being listened to, they do have to worry about how much of our personal information we are just giving away for free to [online] companies.

Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief - Stuff magazine

At the same time, digital researcher Jean Le Roux warns that apps installed onto your phone are more likely to be accessing your microphone and listening in on your conversations than Google or Facebook.

Le Roux urges users to read the terms and conditions when downloading third-party apps, especially ones that are free.

When you make use of these services, you are opening up yourself for being targeted by advertising.

Jean Le Roux, Research Associate - Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Laboratory

If you're conscious about your privacy, it's a good idea to review your apps (and permission) every now and then.

Jean Le Roux, Research Associate - Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Laboratory

Listen to the discussion on ConsumerTalk for more:

Every Wednesday, on The Pippa Hudson Show, Wendy Knowler provides useful insights and tips on how to make the most of your buying power.

For more stories visit the ConsumerTalk feature page.

Got a consumer case you need help resolving?

Email: consumer@knowler.co.za, put Cape Talk in the subject line, followed by the issue e.g. cellphone contract dispute.


29 January 2020 5:10 PM

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