Home » Tech News » If you cover your webcam for privacy you may want to do the same with your microphone

If you cover your webcam for privacy you may want to do the same with your microphone

Mark Zuckerberg has covered the webcam on your laptop. It is a measure of security and privacy increasingly widespread, but the danger that cyber criminals gain access to our webcam and activated without us noticing joins another equally disturbing.

This is the risk that the microphones of our mobile devices and computers pose to our privacy. Plugging small holes is much less common among mobile users, tablets or laptops, but there are other ways to plug the microphone. We tell you what risks the current technology poses and how to minimize the problem.

The machines that listened

Jumping alarms take time, but these days were re-activate after the discovery of how Shazam works. The popular application that recognizes the song that is playing has a peculiar behavior: when you turn it off on the Mac, the micro is still active in spite of everything.


Image Source: Google Image

That, according to Shazam officials, is not a problem, but a feature that makes the application work better. Shazam makers indicate that “the audio is not processed unless the user actively run the application”. If the microphone is turned off, explained in Shazam, the app take longer to launch and offer a user experience worse.

The security researcher who discovered the problem says that probably will not be any “malice” in such behavior, but the company should explain from the beginning how Shazam works.

We are surrounded by microphones

The problem comes from afar, and we just talked about it in “Please machine, do not listen to me so much.” Our “smart” TVs are especially curious, and we have already mentioned several times how some manufacturers gather what we say in order to be able to be activated quickly if we need to execute voice commands.

Facebook also seems to have a special interest in what we say all the time, and peripherals such as Kinect for Xbox 360 and Xbox One have also garnered similar suspicions. Google is another which has also been suspicious of this type of action with apps like Waze, which some describe as the new spy tool signature.

The problem extends to other segments like the toys, but the thing becomes especially worrisome in our mobile devices, which are almost always with us and they usually have pre-installed assistants voice that can be used to obtain information or send messages easily.

This convenience means that the microphone of our device is always listening, ready when utter the magic words, be “Hey Siri”, “Ok Google” or “Hey Cortana”. Voice activation can be interesting at the user level, but that constant microphone activity is also striking. How to avoid that “threat” to our privacy?

You may also like to read another article on YellowTube: What data collected by Pokémon Go and how to manage your privacy in the game?

How to turn off the microphone on your smartphone or computer?

Deactivating the microphone is usually not too trivial, since this component depend largely on the options of our mobile devices. Android users have a good option if you have some advanced knowledge: Rooted terminals and can have a ROM CyanogenMod for example there is the Privacy Guard utility, which notifies us of any request to activate the microphone, and the app store F-Droid there are tools like that evaluates which applications have access to the microphone.

That study permit is fortunately also available in the latest versions of Android from Android 6.0 Marshmallow have a permissions manager makes activating and deactivating the microphone is much more affordable according to which applications. Something similar happens with iOS, in whose privacy options we can establish which applications allow access to the microphone and which do not.

Some go much further and does not trust, and turns off the microphone of your device physically in the mobile when is not in use. This is not a simple operation, and indeed the tutorial that a user issued for an old Nokia showed how it was necessary to install a reed switch (reed switch) which acts through a magnetic field and then could be activated with a magnet.

Edward Snowden taught us how to do something similar on a smartphone in a video of Vice and HBO that made it clear that the task is not suitable for most users, but it was feasible. Disable webcam and microphone makes a smartphone does not already have the option to take pictures or record videos, but can continue to use it to make and receive calls normally , but yes, we will need to connect a headset to do so.

In OS X based computers / MacOS applications also exist as oversight that alert the user that an application is accessing the microphone or webcam, and allows us to enable those components for that application or block its use.

Windows 10 offers the option to disable the camera and microphone in Settings-> Privacy, where we find sections to disable both the microphone and the webcam and turn them back on when needed.

Notebooks based on both Windows and OS X there is also another option more “beast” and is to apply glue in the hole (not enough to cover it ) for the microphone. We can also check if that drop of glue effectively blocks the sound by testing a sound recording application. If we want to use the microphone we can always go to the same solution as the smartphones in which we also “destroy” this component: connect a headset with microphone to these computers to take advantage of that option when we need it.

It is also possible to open these teams and find out if the microphones can be physically disconnected, which for example is possible in the MacBook 2015 and 2016, and we follow guidelines such as those published iFixit for it, but we have to have special tools. In Windows-based computers, it will be necessary to investigate whether this physical disconnection is possible, but certainly an even more interesting alternative than applying glue to the holes, which may not be the total solution.

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