Does my phone really listen to what I say?

The idea that smartphones spy on our conversations is surprisingly widespread, but do our phones really listen to what we're talking about?

The idea that our phones are capable of eavesdropping on the conversations we have with friends and acquaintances seems much more widespread than one might imagine offhand.

It's a hypothesis that finds credit not only among those who are fond of conspiracy theories: those who imagine to be listened by their own devices, usually associate the object of a conversation to an advertisement appeared immediately after the chat, maybe in a feed of a social network or maybe among the advertisements of a website.

But do our smartphones really listen to us?

What do we know about cell phones that can listen to our conversations

First of all, we should clarify that, from a technical point of view, our smartphones have the capacity to record, and at the limit transcribe (to preserve them or forward them to third parties), dialogues within reach of environmental interception. A demonstration? The digital ears must be always open, otherwise it would not be possible to activate the digital assistant (Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri) by pronouncing a couple of words: like "Hey Siri" or "Ok Google".

Between the technical possibility of listening to conversations and the legal feasibility of doing so, however, there is a long way to go. The legislation protecting users' privacy on the subject is very clear. To the point that it would not be possible for a large company producing cell phones (or operating their operating systems) to use information obtained from environmental recordings for advertising purposes.

That then less serious companies choose to practice ways not in accordance with the law, this is certainly something possible on paper, but that, precisely, would be against the current regulatory provisions in terms of protection of the end user (in this regard, Google has already taken some initiative).

Other ways to spy on users and tricks of the imagination

Another possibility to be excluded is the use of a trojan, a malicious software created specifically to do damage. In fact, these are technologies designed for spying, which, even if only from the point of view of economic feasibility, would be too expensive to use for mere advertising purposes.

What instead seems very likely is a joke of our brain. Every day we discuss so many things and observe so many things in online advertisements. A match between what we've said and what we find shortly after in an Instagram ad is simply within the realm of possibility: after all, both our conversations and our search history revolve around personal interests.

And we can't exclude a fact that is actually not accidental: that we have searched online for something that we later found ourselves talking about and that appears in the sponsorships not for the latter but for the former reason, despite the fact that we like to think that, precisely, our phone is spying on us.

There would therefore be more concrete risks on the net, towards which we hesitate to take precautions and that perhaps it would be a good idea to confront, for example with a VPN.

Giuseppe Giordano