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Kim's column

The smart trick to know when your phone’s camera or mic is being used

At dinner, I mentioned that I would like to go hiking in Patagonia. I never searched for these trips or anything like it. Yet, an hour later, I started getting ads about hiking adventures in Patagonia on my phone.

While there’s been no concrete evidence that your device’s microphone is always listening, many believe apps and sites routinely collect voice data and use it for marketing purposes. Your smart speaker, with its virtual assistant, is always listening. On my site, you’ll find the steps to disable the camera and microphone in your digital life from your Amazon Echo to Facebook.

Your smart TV also collects valuable data on you. Tracking happens on the pixel level that can identify every ad, TV show, or movie you’re playing on your TV, including content from streaming boxes, cable/over-the-air TV, and even DVD and Blu-Ray disk players. Tap or click here to stop your smart TV from spying on you.

Apple’s iOS is bundled with tons of useful privacy options. You can see detailed Safari reports showing what kind of trackers and data requests you’ve encountered online. You’ll also see what data certain apps use right in the App Store before you hit download.

Follow the dot

I love the camera and microphone notification icons that appear in the upper-right-hand corner of your iPhone’s screen.

When your iPhone’s microphone is on or was recently accessed, a small orange dot appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. You’ll see a green dot if your camera is in use or was recently recording. 

When your iPhone’s camera and microphone are in use, you’ll see the green camera dot. It’s an easy way to keep tabs on your privacy. Because it’s built into the operating system, apps can’t get around it.

What should I do if my iPhone’s dots are showing?

If you see the icon but don’t know which app uses your camera or mic, it’s time to close out all your programs and check your app permissions.

On the iPhone X and later, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to the middle and let go. You’ll see a stack of open apps. Gently drag each of these icons up to the top of the screen to close them out. Do this for each app until the camera or microphone icon disappears.

If you have an iPhone with a home button, double-press the home button to see the stack of open apps. Repeat the same process as above.

Once your apps are closed, follow these steps to check your app permissions:

  • Open Settings. Scroll down and tap Privacy.
  • Tap either Microphone or Camera. Look through the apps listed and toggle the switch for any apps you don’t need the camera or mic to the off position.

You can choose which apps you want to deny camera or microphone permissions. Some, like a video chat app, will need full access. But games, utilities like flashlights and many other apps don’t need access to your camera or mic.

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If you change your mind and want to return permissions, just follow the same steps and toggle the switches to the on (green) position.

I have an Android phone. Is there any way I can see when my mic or camera is recording?

By default, Android won’t notify you if the camera or mic is recording. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find out for yourself.

If you want an indicator like Apple’s, check out the Access Dots app for Android. This free app will show an icon just like iOS does in the upper-right corner of your phone’s screen.

Access Dots shows ads the first time you open the app. Once it is set up, you won’t see ads because it runs in the background. You can also adjust the colors of the indicator icons to your liking.

How do I adjust app permissions in Android?

If you see the light on and want to stop your mic or camera from being used, swipe up to the middle of your screen from the bottom, then swipe your finger from left to right. On the left, tap Clear all. This will close all your apps at once.

Next, check your permissions. These directions may vary depending on the Android phone you use.

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Personal.
  • Tap Privacy and Safety, followed by App Permissions.
  • Tap Microphone or Camera and locate the app you want to turn the mic or camera off for. Toggle the slider to the off position.

With your device’s mic and camera off, you can take a deep breath and relax the next time you use your phone. Just make sure to pay close attention and watch for the icon in the upper-right corner.

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What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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