Source: metamorworks | Getty Images

Published: June 11th, 2020

Last year’s FaceTime software defect triggered a much bigger question about the existence of widespread invasion of privacy enabled by iPhones. Many wanted to know how much of their conversations were being recorded and relayed by various iPhone apps to the publishers of those apps.

You may recall that the FaceTime software defect let you call anyone and immediately hear the audio being captured by their microphone. You could hear the audio before the person on the other end had even accepted or rejected your incoming call. Until the software defect was resolved by Apple, this snooping was feasible on iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Is Siri snooping on me?

I understand that for Siri to respond to “Hey, Siri”, the Siri app must be listening to everything I say. Should I worry about that?

There’s no indication that Siri records or transmits what you’re saying until you ask Siri something. However, in our conspiracy theory-prone world, Apple’s assurances haven’t stopped some from claiming otherwise.

Apple Inc.

To read more about what Apple says it does and doesn’t do, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Siri & Search.
  3. Tap “About Siri Suggestions & Privacy” at the bottom of the screen.
Apple Inc.

Can I set Siri to stop listening to me?

Apple Inc.

If you don’t want Siri to listen all the time, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Siri & Search.
  3. Next to Listen for “Hey, Siri”, toggle the switch to OFF.
  4. Next to Press Home for Siri, toggle the switch to ON.

With these two settings, you can only activate Siri by pressing the Side button or pressing the Home button depending on the iPhone model you’re using.
When you change these settings, Apple reminds you that your iPhone sends data for Apple for processing. iPhone processors are not powerful enough for speech interpretation.

Is Siri aware of my apps?

Apple Inc.

You can limit how Siri includes your various apps by changing the app-specific default settings that are normally switched to ON in the Siri & Search menu. Follow these steps to adjust:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Siri & Search.
  3. Scroll down to the list of apps that are accessible to Siri.
  4. Tap where you want to change the Siri settings.
  5. Toggle the switches at right to ON or OFF as desired.

Can I lock down Siri entirely?

Apple Inc.

If you’re still nervous, you can lock down Siri entirely by following these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Siri & Search.
  3. Next to Listen for “Hey, Siri”, toggle the switch to OFF.
  4. Next to Press Home for Siri, toggle the switch to OFF.

Even with these settings, Siri will sometimes insinuate itself and ask to be turned on if you press and hold Home.

Can I reduce the risk of my iPhone snooping on me further?

Apple Inc.

The previous points to reduce risk are not enough for me. What else can I do?
iOS requires all apps to explicitly request permission to use your microphone and lists those apps that have requested access. You can review these apps and disable access as follows:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Privacy.
  3. Tap Microphone.
  4. You’ll see a list of apps that have requested access to the microphone.
  5. Toggle the switch to OFF next to any app for which you want to revoke microphone access.

How difficult is it for someone to snoop on my iPhone?

I heard about Jeff Bezos having his iPhone X hacked. Can that happen to me?
While it’s obviously possible, it’s technically quite demanding and therefore costly. So, unless you’re a high-profile celebrity or a golfing buddy of someone like Jeff Bezos or Michael Bloomberg, your risk of that kind of sophisticated attack is extremely low.
You can significantly reduce the risk of introducing malware into your iPhone and iPad that could snoop on you by diligently following the advice you’ve heard before:

  1. Only tap on links when you’re sure you know where the link came from.
  2. Only tap on links when you’re confident you know where the link will take you.
  3. Only open email or messages from senders you know.
  4. Only tap on email attachments from senders you know.
  5. Only install apps from the App Store and not from anywhere else.
  6. Only install apps from publishers that you know and trust.
  7. Only surf websites that display the little lock in the address line indicating use of https encryption.

Has your iPhone been hacked?

How can I detect a bug on my iPhone?

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I know that Apple is proud of how it certifies apps before making them available in the App Store. However, can’t someone sneak an app into the App Store or directly onto my iPhone that is a listening app or bug?
Sneaking such a malicious app onto your iPhone is possible even though it requires a lot of technical expertise. Here are some of the indicators that your iPhone contains such a bug:

  1. Your battery is losing its charge quite quickly even when you’re not using your iPhone because the bug is consuming power while shipping your data to its controller.
  2. You observe multiple, random, unexplained screen flashes. Flashes are a common indicator of a software defect in an app or a bug. If the flashes persist on your Home screen after a reboot when no apps are supposed to be running, you likely have a bug.
  3. If the data usage on your monthly iPhone bill or under Settings, tap Cellular is much higher than your actual usage, you likely have a bug.

If the bug is clever enough to transmit only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, iOS doesn’t offer a built-in way to see Wi-Fi data usage the way Android does. You can choose to install an iOS app to track Wi-Fi data usage. However, the problem with these apps is that they consume quite a bit of your battery.

Hashtag Trending – iPhone hacking tools on eBay; Interac’s e-Transfers are booming; is your data plan ready for 5G?

Is Apple snooping on me?

Apple Inc.

I think I trust Apple. After all, Apple was one of the few vendors that pushed back against court orders issued to the FBI in defense of customer privacy. Is there any reason not to trust Apple?
Apple recently replied to a US Congressional letter requesting information about how it handles customer data. While being clear to differentiate itself from other companies, Apple made these statements:

  1. When we do collect data, we’re transparent about it.
  2. We work to disassociate data from customer identification.
  3. We utilize on-device processing to minimize data collection by Apple.

Of course, Apple, just like many other companies, collects data on customer activity to improve its products and services.
If you find this description of Apple’s approach to customer privacy insufficient, consider if changing to another smartphone vendor will provide you with greater protection or not.

Can I use my iPhone to eavesdrop on a conversation?

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You can use your iPhone and AirPods or your hearing aids, when they’re within Bluetooth range, to eavesdrop on a conversation. Live Listen will stream whatever the iPhone microphone is hearing to your AirPods or to your hearing aids.
With AirPods, tap Start Live Listen feature that’s available in the Hearing menu under Settings.
With hearing aids follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Accessibility.
  3. Tap Hearing Devices.
  4. Tap the name of your hearing devices.
  5. Tap Start Live Listen.

You can also use the Voice Memos app on your iPhone to record a conversation.

What strategies would you recommend that can reduce snooping on iPhone conversations? Let us know in the comments below.



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