It's no secret that smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, an astonishing 3.5 billion people around the world own one, that's approximately 85% of the American population. They're always within arm's reach and can perform an almost endless array of functions. So it's no surprise that 47% of American smartphone owners claim they couldn't live without it.
With all of these possibilities at our fingertips, it's important that we understand how to use all of the features our smartphones have to offer. But with great power comes great responsibility. You may have noticed an orange dot appearing on the right-hand corner of your phone screen and wondered what it means. Let us explore the importance of this orange dot.
Won't See It Until You Know It Is There
An orange dot might have appeared on your phone before, only you didn't notice it. It can be easy to miss, as it's so small.
After the iOS 14 update, users began seeing the orange dot appear on their phones. But unless you're super tech-savvy, you might not have understood what the new iPhone feature actually means.
Started With IOS 14
As with most iPhone updates, after running the iOS 14 update, your phone should have looked a little different. (Or maybe you upgraded to a new phone and it's the first time you've seen it.) This update included a new look for the redesigned widget gallery, which helps users to better organize their apps.
The update also affected messages, now allowing users to pin conversations, and also improving group messages. Maps were also given a new feature with improved cycling directions for those riding a bike while using the app.
Privacy Settings Changed
Along with the previously mentioned new features, the iOS 14 update included some changes to user privacy. The new privacy features were designed to help improve transparency.
The update is also intended to help users understand what kind of access they're agreeing to when they download an app onto their phone. For each app that you download on your phone, you could unknowingly be giving access to your location, photos, microphone, camera, and even your phone contacts. But that's not everything that changed.
Phones Listening To Everyone, Even At Work
Like many of us, The Sun reporter Miranda Knox was worried that her smartphone was listening in on her conversations. She decided to test her theory and prove that it was in fact happening, and it wasn't just paranoia.
Knox went into her phone settings and turned on the mic permission for all of her apps. For the experiment, she chose a few obscure topics that she's never searched for or showed interest in. She decided on "spandex," "business cards," and "vegan food." She logged into her social media account and began talking out loud about those subjects while she scrolled and swiped on her phone.
Targeted Ads Confirmed Experiment
Within days of beginning the experiment, Knox began seeing ads related to the obscure topics that she chose to test. "I felt like I was being spied on," she wrote in an article for The Sun. "Within days I was inundated with ads related to these key words."
She left the mic on and continued her daily routine. The ads continued. "I had a conversation with my husband about getting an armchair while my phone was next to me on the sofa-- and I was inundated with furniture ads."
Warnings From Cyber Experts
After hearing of Miranda Knox's experience and frightening results, DefenceWorks founder and cyber expert Edward Whittingham said he's not surprised. He told The Sun, "There's no question as to whether or not our phones can listen to us, but the million-dollar question is are they?"
He advised people who are concerned about big business eavesdropping on your conversations should check the permissions on each of your phone apps. "You might be surprised at just how many have or request access to your microphone, camera, or even phone contacts. When there's no obvious or tangible reason as to why they'd need it," he warns.
It's Up To Us To Protect Our Privacy
It may seem like the companies creating these smart speakers, smartphones and virtual assistants aren't being completely transparent with their customers. What else are they not coming forward about?
It's sounding more and more like we have to do our own detective work and make sure that we're not blindly agreeing to open our home for these devices to record our conversations. Because let's be honest, who really reads all that fine print in the terms and conditions agreement?
If The Orange Dot Randomly Appears, An App Is Using Your Mic
When you see the orange dot appear on the upper right hand of your phone, that means that your phone's microphone is being used. You'll see it appear when you make a phone call or start a voice recording. This makes sense because you'll need your microphone for these functions. But what if you see it when you're not talking on the phone or sending a voice text? That's when you should be worried...
If you see the orange dot appear while you're browsing the internet or using an app, that's when you should be worried. That little orange dot indicates that something on your phone is accessing your microphone. That means that your conversations are being recorded and anything that you say around your phone is likely being sent to the cloud. Don't be surprised if you start seeing ads served to you based on your recent conversations.
Take Back Your Privacy
Now that you know what the orange dot means, you can take back control of your privacy. Go into the settings on your phone and click on each of the apps you have downloaded to see what it has access to, including your microphone, camera, location, and contacts.
It's likely that you may find more than one culprit that has access to your microphone without any practical reason as to why.
The Orange Dot Won't Tell You Much Else
While the orange dot indicates that the microphone on your phone is being used, it doesn't tell you much else. It won't tell you exactly what's been recorded, or for how long. It won't even tell you which app was using your mic, or what it's using the recording for.
That doesn't sound fair, right? Raising awareness is a step in the right direction, and you are now more informed of when your privacy is being invaded. It might even make you think twice before you download another app!