I’ve always known that my smartphone had a microphone. If nothing else, it obviously has to be used for the Shazam app so I can figure out the name of that great song. So that is the only time I use the microphone on my phone. And then when I am finished using the Shazam app, I turn it off. You’ll see why if you read on.

Most people have no idea that there even is a microphone setting on their phone, let alone the amount of data that goes through the microphone on smartphones if it is on all the time.

I first became interested in the capabilities of smartphone microphones after I spoke with a security expert who was employed with a defense contractor. He told me that he never enables his microphone on his phone and even if it isn’t enabled, he never keeps his phone on at all while he is working at his desk at the defense contractor. I said “Why–if it is off?” He raised his eyebrows and said “Linn, really? Of course there is technology that can enable a microphone even if you don’t…turn off your phone when you are working at your desk or any time your phone is near you and you aren’t using it.” Hmmm. He didn’t seem like he was trying to spook me. I did more research and got sufficiently spooked.

So practically speaking, what are the privacy issues with the microphone setting on your phone?

It is accessible. It is hackable. If you use Sirius or any other apps that use your microphone, you are allowing that app to have access to anything that can be heard with it on. Someone can listen to everything going through your microphone when your phone is on if the microphone is on. Think about how Shazam works. It can actually listen to the music that is playing in the restaurant and identity it for you. It can also hear everything else around you–your conversations with your spouse, with your children, with co-workers and literally everyone else you come into contact with.

You don’t care that all of your conversations can be heard? That’s ok That’s your choice.

But make an educated choice. If you do care, go to settings on your phone, click on microphone and see which apps have requested and you have agreed to use your microphone. Turn off that capability if you don’t want that app to have access to all of your conversations. In many instances, when you download an app, it automatically includes permission to use the microphone when you click “I agree.” Also, turn your microphone off and only turn it on for apps that need it for specific purposes that you allow (like Shazam) or don’t allow it at all.

Whatever you do, make an educated choice and know who you are allowing to use the microphone feature on your phone and limit access and use where you feel appropriate.