Is WhatsApp secretly listening to your private conversations? Here’s how to check

Is WhatsApp secretly listening to your private conversations? Here’s how to check
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  • WhatsApp has been accused of eavesdropping on private conversations.
  • The company attributed the issue to a bug, but some users are still concerned about privacy.
  • Below, read about how you can control which apps have access to your microphone.
There have been recent concerns about WhatsApp potentially eavesdropping on private conversations. These concerns were echoed by Fod Dabiri, Twitter's director of engineering, who disclosed that WhatsApp had been using his phone’s microphone in the background while he was asleep, and he only discovered this when he woke up at 6 AM. Amplifying it, Elon Musk echoed his opinion by tweeting, “WhatsApp cannot be trusted.”

Following the incident, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, announced that the government would investigate any potential privacy violations in WhatsApp.

WhatsApp has attributed the issue to a bug on Android that causes incorrect information to appear on privacy dashboards. The messaging platform has confirmed that all messages and calls on its platform are end-to-end encrypted, ensuring that nobody can hear or read them. WhatsApp has also emphasized that users have complete control over their microphone settings and can choose to allow or disallow the app from accessing it.

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"We believe this is a bug on Android that mis-attributes information in their Privacy Dashboard and have asked Google to investigate and remediate," the company said. It said WhatsApp only uses a phone's microphone when the user is making a call or recording.

In an official statement, WhatsApp stated that it had been in touch with the Twitter engineer who posted the issue and had asked Google to investigate and resolve the problem. WhatsApp further clarified that it only accesses the microphone when a user is making a call or recording a voice note or video and that these communications are also protected by end-to-end encryption.

Convenience at the expense of privacy?


In past occurrences, smart speakers have been reported to listen in on private conversations. Whistleblowers from Apple and Amazon disclosed in separate reports published by Bloomberg News and The Guardian in April 2019 that they had eavesdropped on personal discussions through Siri and Alexa. The incidents involved sensitive conversations such as drug deals, intimate moments between couples, and children screaming for help.

As per Bloomberg's findings, Amazon has numerous employees stationed globally whose job is to enhance the performance of Alexa. These teams listen to audio recordings from Echo devices in people's homes and offices, transcribe them, annotate them, and use their observations to update the software. This process eliminates delays in Alexa's comprehension of human speech and enables the device to respond more accurately to commands.

Here’s how you can stay safe

Android and iOS phone provides a green dot on the top left corner of the screen when an app is using your camera or microphone. You also have the option to manage which apps have access to your phone and its features. In order to do so, follow these steps.

How to turn off your microphone on iPhone

Navigate to Settings > Siri & Search and then toggle off the following items:
  1. Listen for ‘Hey Siri’
  2. Press the side button for Siri
  3. Allow Siri When Locked
To turn off Siri, simply tap ‘Turn Off Siri’ when a pop-up window appears after selecting ‘Allow Siri When Locked.’

How to turn off your microphone on Android
  1. Navigate to Settings Select
  2. Google > Account Services > Search, Assistant & Voice > Voice
  3. Go to the Voice Match settings and toggle off the ‘Hey Google’ option.
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