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Trick to stop your computer's microphone from snooping
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Security & privacy

Your computer microphone still listens even on mute – Try this trick

With many people working remotely, everybody should by now know how to behave when in a Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting. Your camera picks up every move even when you think no one is watching, and your microphone can catch the faintest of sounds.

Most people assume that muting their computer’s microphone gives them total privacy. That should be the case, but it’s not.

Read on to find out how your microphone is sneakily still listening to everything you say.

Here’s the backstory

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered that your device’s microphone continues to listen even after hitting the mute switch.

While the researchers didn’t name the specific applications that do this, they strongly hint that it is most video and conference call apps. In a blog post, the study claims that all the apps they tested “occasionally gather raw audio data while mute is activated.”

If that’s not bad enough, the audio then transmits to the servers of the hosting platform. The team explains further that in at least one instance, an app was “delivering data to its server at the same rate regardless of whether the microphone is muted or not.”

It also doesn’t matter whether you use a built-in microphone or an external one, as it’s the platform’s software that dictates how the microphone works. The research team plans to present its findings to a panel at July’s Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium.

What you can do about it

The best way to ensure you’re actually muted when on a video chat is to mute the chat program and the microphone you’re using. If it’s an external microphone, unplug it. If you’re using earbuds, you can mute the microphone on them. The combination of a muted chat program and microphone should work.

The technique is called “double muting,” where you mute yourself in the application and on your device.

To mute your microphone through settings on a Windows computer:

  • Right-click on the Start button and click Settings.
  • Click System, then Sound.
  • Under Input, your should see your microphone listed. Click Device properties.
  • Here you have two options. Either drop the volume of your microphone to zero or click on the Disable button.

Just remember to enable it again before speaking. You can also right-click on the microphone icon in the taskbar, click on Open Volume Mixer and mute the microphone.

On an Apple Mac:

  • Click the Apple button, then System Preferences.
  • Click Sound followed by Input.
  • In the next window, move the microphone volume slider to the left to mute it.

Keep reading

How to disable your computer’s webcam and microphone

Protect your webcam and microphone

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