If people have an iPhone, they might have noticed an orange dot on the upper right corner of their screen from time to time. This means that something installed on the iPhone is using its microphone. Similarly, people might have noticed a green dot in the same approximate region from time to time. In that case, the green case can mean one of two things. One, something installed on the iPhone is using its camera. Two, something installed on the iPhone is using both its camera and its microphone. Of course, knowing that something installed on the iPhone is using either the camera, the microphone, or both isn't the same as knowing exactly which app is using them. If people are curious, they have a simple way to find out which app is responsible. Simply put, they can bring up their stack of active apps. After which, it is just a matter of closing them one by one until the relevant dot goes away.
What is it?
If people are concerned about what apps are using what, they can go to Settings and then Privacy to see their camera permissions as well as their microphone permissions. After which, it is just a matter of deciding which apps should have access to which things. There are some apps that should have access to these things. To name an example, a video chat app wouldn't be able to function without both camera permissions and microphone permissions. However, there are also plenty of apps that don't need either one or both sets of permissions. For example, a lot of games would fall under this category. Similarly, a lot of utilities would fall under this category as well. In the end, everyone needs to make their own decision on the matter because everyone has their own opinion on what they are and aren't OK with when it comes to privacy. Unfortunately, Android phones don't automatically come with a similar feature. There are apps that can provide a similar feature. However, those come with various requirements, meaning that interested individuals may or may not be willing to put up with them. On the plus side, it is very much possible for Android phone users to set camera permissions and microphone permissions for each app. As a result, if they are concerned about privacy, they should definitely check these things out by going to Settings, Privacy and Safety, and then App Permissions. Once again, everyone is responsible for determining what they are and aren't OK with.
Why Does This Matter?
Nowadays, it is normal for apps to collect a lot of information, which is sent on to the app makers. Sometimes, that is where the trail ends, though that isn't necessarily much comfort. Other times, well, suffice to say that data is valuable, meaning that a wide range of parties are interested in acquiring that sort of thing. In other words, most of us are giving away a great deal of our information on a regular basis, which presumably isn't very comforting to those who are concerned about their privacy. This isn't including malware, which was very little regard for what is and isn't legal. Instead, this refers to the efforts of legitimate apps, which are permitted to do this because this isn't against the law. On the plus side, even when someone gives away information because of an app accessing their camera or their microphone, chances are good that the results aren't actually being scrutinized by a human mind. After all, any app with a user base of respectable size is going to be collecting a huge volume of information, meaning that there is no way for a human work force of reasonable size to actually go through it bit by bit. Instead, the parties that are interested in this kind of thing are going to be using machines to process the information most of the time because machines are actually capable of gleaning meaningful insights from that kind of input. In modern times, machines have gotten quite good at this. Moreover, machines are expected to become better and better still, not least because a wide range of parties are pouring a huge amount of resources into further improving their capabilities in this regard. As such, interested individuals can expect their own information to be used against them in various ways, with a classic example being targeting them with more effective advertisements than otherwise possible.
What Can You Do about This Kind of Thing Anyways?
People have various ways to prevent this kind of thing. For instance, the simplest method would be stopping the use of these apps and services. In practice, well, suffice to say that these things have become a normal part of modern existence, meaning that dropping all of them would represent a huge loss of convenience. There are some people out there who can do this with minimal issue. However, it seems safe to say that most of us would feel the hit. Alternatively, there is the option of adopting practices that will reduce the amount of information being given out without stopping the use of apps and services altogether. For example, there is the option of using the Tor browser for browsing. Similarly, there is the option of using search engines such as Duck Duck Go that seek to distinguish themselves by respecting their users' privacy. On top of this, there is the aforementioned method of refusing various sorts of permissions for apps, thus preventing them from making use of those functions.
Of course, there is also the option of just ignoring the fact that so much information is being given away. One could say that this is just one of the costs for accessing these apps and services, meaning that people are making an informed decision to continue using them in exchange for giving away their information. Having said that, they should still make sure to keep a watchful eye on where their information is going. After all, legitimate parties aren't the only ones with an interest in information, which is a real issue when illegitimate parties are willing to go after both individuals and companies in order to get their hands upon it.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson