Is Your Phone Listening to You?

By: Emma Coppola

Voice technology, for so many devices, has inevitably changed the way we communicate and manipulate our surroundings. “Talk to text” on our phone, helps us send messages to friends and family, when our hands might not be free. “Alexa”, with Amazon, can turn the lights on for us when we walk into our apartments.  Siri for iPhone, and Cortana for Android are at the ready to answer our most pressing questions, such as “What year did Brittany Spears shave her head?” and “Do bugs have feelings?” But all of this begs an even greater question, which is, “Are our devices listening to us?”

Earlier this year in July 2018, the Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) CEO Larry Page, concerned with whether these devices were listening, or “eavesdropping” on people’s conversations. While these voice technologies prove to make our lives all a bit easier at times, consumers and lawmakers were worried that smartphones were collecting data and listening to conversations when the voice activation had not been triggered.

Apple responded stating that Siri is triggered through voice assistants like “Hey Siri” and only then does the smart device begin to process voice commands. Apple also stated that the guidelines of their program require the iPhone to show some sort of visual indicator when the device is collecting data (that little purple thing on your phone when you’re talking to Siri). There is also a microphone and audio setting on the phone, where users can revoke the device’s access to “hear” commands.

Some experts in the field of computer science and technology say users have nothing to worry about. “Its categorically untrue that this is happening” stated Serge Egelman, the director of security and privacy research at Berkley’s International Computer Science Institute. On the flip side, others are concerned and troubled by these devices’ powers. “We really need a baseline privacy law in the United States that protects people, we can’t just rely on Apple’s policies or other big tech companies” stated Chris Calabrese, VP of policy at the Center of Democracy and Technology.

While the opinions may be fluctuating, the issue and concern of a reasonable expectation of privacy still stand, especially when interacting with technology. When will the way technology works cross the “privacy line”, or has it already?



Kaya Yurieff, Apple: No, your iPhone isn’t eavesdropping on you, CNN Tech (Aug. 8, 2018, 5:12 PM),