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How to stop all your smart devices from listening to you

Voice recognition is undeniable proof that we live in the future, and it makes daily life more convenient. But what’s the downside for always-on devices that constantly listen for commands?

It’s just that: They’re always listening. Nearly all voice-activated technology uses microphones that listen for “wake words” or other vocal cues. It also means companies like Apple, Facebook and Google hear all your commands and can potentially pick up conversations if your device thinks it hears the wake word. And these devices are accidentally activated far more often than you might think.

If you’re uncomfortable with how much your smart devices can hear in your home, we don’t blame you. Your smartphone alone contains cameras, a microphone and plenty of other tools that can be misused against you. If you want to take control of your privacy and keep your conversations “behind closed doors,” here’s how you can stop your smart devices from listening.

Blocking stalkerware

A common way your devices can spy on you has nothing to do with the companies who made them. Instead, this method involves tampering with your tech so it can spy on what you do and say. It’s called “stalkerware,” and if one of these dangerous apps is installed on your computer or smartphone, the person behind it may already know quite a bit about you.

Stalkerware apps are often marketed for “parental control” purposes — but in the wrong hands, these apps can be abused.

They generally collect your web browsing history, text messages and phone calls. Some can even capture what you’re doing on-screen. So how can you spot them? A surge in data usage, odd charges on your bill and other red flags are clues something is wrong. Tap or click to see the top 6 signs and what you can do about it.

Foiling Facebook

Facebook sometimes requests access to the microphone for video-chatting and text-to-speech purposes. But if you’re not exactly comfortable giving Facebook control of your mic, here’s how you can stop it.

(Note: There are many different Android manufacturers so the steps outlined in this article may be different than your model. If so, check with your model’s manual.) Don’t have your manual handy? Tap or click here for thousands of free online user manuals.

For iPhone

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Facebook.
  • Toggle the green switch next to Microphone to the off position.

Another way is:

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Privacy.
  • Locate the menu labeled Microphone and tap it.
  • Find Facebook in the list of apps and toggle the Green switch to the off position.

For Android

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Personal.
  • Tap Privacy and safety, followed by App Permissions.
  • Tap Microphone and locate Facebook.
  • Toggle the slider to the off position.

If you do decide to shoot video or chat with a friend, just return to these settings and turn your mic on. Switch it off again when you’re finished.

Stopping voice assistants

As convenient as virtual assistants can be, it’s common knowledge they can pick up snippets of private conversations if you say something that sounds like the wake word. If you’re worried about the privacy risks of your gadget’s always-on microphone, here are the steps to turn it off.

Amazon Echo

  • Locate your Echo device and find a button that looks like either a microphone or a circle with a line through it.
  • Push the button. This stops the device from passing voltage through the mic’s internals.
  • If you wish to use Alexa again, simply press the button again. You can always turn the mic off when not in use.

Siri

  • Open the Settings app on your iPhone. Then, scroll down and tap Siri & Search.
  • Toggle the green switch next to Listen for “Hey Siri” to the off position.
  • You can also turn off Allow Siri when locked if you want to prevent Siri from activating if a button is pressed in your pocket.

Google Assistant

On Android

  • Open the Settings app on your phone. Then, scroll down and tap Account Services.
  • Tap Search, Assistant & Voice. Then, tap Google Assistant.
  • Tap on Assistant. Then, scroll down to Assistant devices and tap Phone.
  • Tap the Google Assistant slider to turn it off.

On iOS

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Privacy.
  • Locate the menu labeled Microphone and tap it.
  • Find Google Assistant in the list of apps and toggle the green switch to the off position.

Cortana on Windows 10

  • Click the Start Menu button and click Settings.
  • Click Privacy.
  • Locate Microphone on the left-hand panel and click it.
  • Scroll down to Cortana and toggle the Microphone permission to Off.

Stop your smart home security systems from eavesdropping

Smart home products make it easy to secure your home from intruders and trespassers, but even these devices have microphones that are always listening. Here’s how you can disable audio recording on two of the most popular home security devices: Google Nest and Amazon Ring.

Google Nest

  • Open the Nest app on your smartphone and select the camera on the home screen.
  • Tap Settings.
  • Select Microphone. Then, tap the switch to turn it off.

Amazon Ring

  • Open the Ring app on your smartphone and select the device you would like to mute.
  • Tap Device Settings followed by Video Settings.
  • Tap on the Audio Streaming and Recording toggle to turn off the mic.

Your smart TV

Many smart TVs come equipped with voice recognition. Unfortunately, this means they, too, can listen in. Worse still, some of the most popular smart TVs are spying on your viewing habits and sell that data.

If you want to stop your smart TV from listening to you and scanning your channel-surfing history, check out our detailed guide to disabling these features on TVs made by Samsung, VIZIO, LG and more.

Tap or click here to see the easiest ways to stop your smart TV from tracking you

Untangling ultrasonic technology

Are you familiar with ultrasonic tech? Most people aren’t, but your smart devices are definitely aware of it. “Ultrasonic” refers to radio waves that can’t be heard by humans. They’re perfect for stealthily issuing commands to smart devices.

Why would anyone want to collect these inaudible sounds? It comes down to money. Apps that use ultrasonic tech are constantly looking for “beacons,” which are audio clues that suggest where you shop and what you like to buy. These apps then pair browser cookies to your device to track you.

Thankfully, in 2017, Google announced that 234 Android apps using ultrasonic tracking would be banned or suspended. And this year, the company banned cross-platform tracking as part of its ad policy.

But if you’re still unsure about whether or not an Android or iOS app uses ultrasonic tech for other reasons, you can always disable the microphone using the same steps you used for Facebook.

For iOS

  • Open the Settings app. Then, scroll down and tap Privacy.
  • Locate the menu labeled Microphone and tap it.
  • Find the app you want to turn the mic off for in the list of apps and toggle the Green switch to the off position.

For Android

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

With your devices no longer listening, you can relax and feel a bit less paranoid about using your tech. And the best part: You can always turn the microphones back on again if you want to use them. Just make sure you’re careful about what you say when they’re on — and don’t forget to turn them off when you’re finished.

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