Have you ever found yourself chatting with a friend or family member, only to later feel like your phone was eavesdropping on the conversation? In the age of smartphones and smart devices, concerns about digital privacy are more prevalent than ever. From targeted ads to unexpected data collection, many of us wonder: is our phone listening to our conversations? Cybersecurity Specialist, Donovan Pillay, joined Jo to shed light on this topic. “Our phones are constantly collecting data on us, and that data can be used in ways that we never intended.”

Voice Assistants

Are voice assistants like Alexa and Siri continuously monitoring our conversations? According to Donovan, yes they are. These assistants are actively listening for specific “wake words,” such as “Hey, Siri.” Each interaction with a voice assistant entails the recording of your message, which is then converted into a transcript and analysed to generate a response.

However, there are instances when your device might misinterpret sounds, mistakenly activating and subsequently uploading all the information it collected during that period. “You can use voice assistants to send a message, the algorithm knows what you sent and to whom…You could use your voice assistant to turn your lights off at home, it knows what time you’ll go to sleep. So the amount of data collection is enormous, to say the least.

The Convenience Trap

The convenience of modern technology comes at a cost: our privacy. Donovan warned against the “convenience trap,” where we unknowingly sacrifice personal data for seamless functionality. From mapping systems tracking our every move to cookies and app monitoring our online activities, our data is extensively collected and utilised. “We are giving up data and our privacy in the name of convenience,” Donovan cautioned.

But why do tech giants want to know so much about us? Donovan explained, “I think it is mainly for advertising purposes and to get you to look at something that you find interesting. But looking closely, this data collection is sold to partners that run analytics on the data that comes up from you. It is repackaged and sold as the marketing products.

Practical Tips for Digital Privacy

So, are we powerless in this digital surveillance game? Donovan reassured, “With the right settings, we can take back some control.

  • For iOS users: Go to Settings > Privacy, then disable microphone access for unnecessary apps, control which apps can access your camera, and disable location tracking for apps not in use.
  • For Android users: Go to Settings > Security and Privacy > Permissions Manager and choose which apps have access to your camera, microphone and location.
  • Adjust your browser settings to block trackers and prevent websites from sharing or selling your data.

It is so important to understand and protect your digital privacy. By taking control of our devices and staying informed, we can navigate the digital world with confidence.

Listen to the full conversation below!