Ever get that feeling your phone knows you a bit too well? It’s not your imagination. From location tracking to trackers that follow you around the web, there’s a constant stream of info coming from your device.
Some apps can even use your phone’s microphone or camera when you’re not expecting it. And until recently, there was no way to tell when this was happening. Instagram was caught red-handed doing just that, and we only found out because of a new privacy feature baked into Apple iOS 14. Tap or click here to see how Instagram got caught.
If you’re paranoid about your phone listening to you, iOS 14 will let you know every time your microphone or camera turns on. We’ll show you how it works, along with how to adjust your privacy settings to stop spying. Don’t worry, Android users! We have you covered, too.
It’s official: Now we know when they’re listening or watching
Apple’s iOS 14 update is bundled with tons of useful new privacy options. You can see detailed reports in Safari that show what kind of trackers and data requests you’ve encountered online. You’ll also see exactly what data certain apps use right in the App Store before you hit download.
There’s an upcoming feature that blocks ad trackers automatically by default. It’s one of the best-loved features by beta testers, but it was unfortunately delayed for the final release. Tap or click here to see when you can expect that update.
The biggest and most obvious privacy features are the new camera and microphone notification icons that appear in the upper-right hand corner of your screen.
When your phone’s microphone is on or was recently accessed, a small orange dot appears in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. If you camera is in use or was recently recording, you’ll see a green dot.
If both are in use, you’ll see the green camera dot.
So if you use an iPhone and want to know if your phone is listening or watching, glance at the upper-right corner. If you see the small green or orange dot, your microphone or camera is on.
It’s an easy way to keep tabs on your privacy — and because it’s built into the operating system, apps can’t get around it.
What should I do if these lights are on?
If you see the icon but don’t know which app is using 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 in both of these menus and toggle the switch for any apps you don’t use the camera or mic for to the off position.
You can choose which apps you want to deny camera or microphone permissions to. 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.
If you change your mind and want to give permissions back, 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 are 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 just like the one used in iOS 14, check out the Access Dots app for Android. This free app asks permission to access your camera and mic and will show an icon just like iOS does in the upper-right corner of your screen.
Keep in mind, Access Dots will show you ads the first time you open it or open the main app itself. Once it is set up, however, you won’t see any more 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.
Apple iOS 14 has a ton of new privacy features, but Android 11 is no slouch. The latest update gives you the ability to grant apps one-time permission to access the camera or mic.
We recommend doing this for any apps you don’t use regularly, such as photo filters. You have to click one more button to use the app, but it means it doesn’t have free reign to use your camera.
With your 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. Now that you know its there, you might find yourself checking it over and over again. It’s a small price to pay for privacy.