How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You (2024)

  • Apps could be secretly accessing your smartphone's microphone and camera to spy on you, or collect data to serve you targeted ads.
  • To protect yourself, you can download an app that lets you know when the microphone or camera are turned on.
  • You can also invest in some hardware to block out the microphone and camera.

If you've Zoomed at all over the last four-plus months, you're certainly familiar with that pop-up box that requests permission to use your device's microphone or camera. How else are you supposed to see or hear the person on the other line?

But there can be a more sinister side to these permissions: Some apps don't bother asking for your consent at all, turning your device into a pocket spy, loaded with cameras and microphones at the ready.

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Back in 2018, for example, over 250 apps across the App Store and Google Play market were listening in for background audio through smartphone microphones, allowing the apps to figure out what you watch or listen to in order to serve up better targeted advertisem*nts. And then, of course, there's the long-standing conspiracy theory that our smartphones are actively eavesdropping on us.

The good news: You can take a few simple precautions to always maintain your privacy and ward off any watchful apps. The following tips just take a few seconds to complete.

Strategy #1: Figure out which apps already have permission to use your camera and microphone.

How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You (1)

This is a pretty quick exercise in personal security, and it might actually surprise you. For example, when I checked out which apps have permission to use the microphone on my Google Pixel 3a, I found out 16 out of 52 possible apps had access.

While none of the apps that already have permission really surprised me—Android Auto, the native camera app, and Google Duo were among the culprits—some of the apps that I denied, but could have given permissions to, were alarming. Why would I really want to give up those privileges to the American Eagle app, or the HelloFresh app, for example?

⚠️ To figure out which apps have permission to use your microphone or camera:

ON ANDROID

Settings > Apps & Notifications > Scroll down and click Advanced > Permission Manager > Select which settings you'd like to examine, from call logs, to camera permissions, to microphone permissions > Once you're under a category, you can click on any of the apps to toggle the permission to Allow or Deny.

ON iOS:

Settings > Privacy > select Microphone or Camera, depending on which you'd like check up on > toggle permission on/off for certain apps.

To be clear, I'm not saying these apps are inherently malicious—just that they're asking for permission to use tools that can garner the most data possible. You should be wary of these things. When going through your list of apps that have permission to the microphone or camera, ask yourself a few basic questions:

📲 Do I actually record or post videos or images with this app? What about listening to playback audio or recording audio? If none of these things apply, don't give the app access to the camera or microphone.

📲 Can I wait to turn permissions on until I need them? If it's your native camera app, you'll probably want permissions turned on at all times so you never miss the shot. But if it's something like WhatsApp, consider turning off all permissions to the camera until you actually need it.

📲 Do I know how the app developer will use any data collected through my microphone or camera? Read the app's privacy policy and terms of service, and you may be surprised at what you find. For example, TikTok has recently come under fire for collecting massive amounts of user data, even though the app does list all of its data collection policies in its privacy notice.

Strategy #2: Download an app that can track when your camera or microphone are in use.

How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You (2)

With the iOS 14 update, Apple users will see an indicator on the top right-hand side of their screen when an app is using the microphone or camera, as shown in this rendering.

If you're an Apple user, you'll soon have the latest privacy features for monitoring on-device microphone and camera use right in your iPhone's operating system.

With the forthcoming iOS 14 update, Apple is introducing a new feature called a recording indicator, which will let you know when any of your apps—even the ones running in the background—are using the microphone or camera. This will show up as a little orange dot on the top right-hand side of the screen, right next to the symbols for WiFi and cellular data signal.

The Control Center will also feature a function that will let you see which apps have recently used your camera or microphone, which is nice because it serves as a backup. That way, you don't have to be vigilantly staring at the corner of your iPhone, searching for a little glowing dot.

If you're an Android user, you can use an called Access Dots, which essentially does the exact same thing as the new iOS 14 feature. (The developers don't shy away from that in the app's description on the Google Play market.)

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Access Dots uses the same style of indicators as iOS 14—just a few pixels in the corner, which illuminate like a dot—to let you know when third-party apps are using either the microphone or the camera. It even works on your device's lock screen. In true Android fashion, you can even go into the app's settings to customize how the dot will show up on your display.

Strategy #3: Grab some hardware to protect yourself, just in case.

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How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You (6)

BLOCKED Vinyl Webcam Covers

If you're still feeling insecure about how apps are using your smartphone's built-in sensors, there are plenty of ways that you can physically intervene by blocking out their functionality.

If you're paranoid that your front-facing camera is going to spontaneously turn on, slap on a vinyl sticker to cover up the front and back cameras until you're ready to use them. (Then, just peel them off.) These covers are better than regular stickers because they don't leave behind a sticky residue.

You can also purchase a small hardshell cover that uses a sliding mechanism to cover and uncover the camera. These are best for the front-facing selfie camera and for smartphones with only one lens on the back. (Imagine putting sliding covers over the spider eye-like triple camera array on the iPhone 11 Pro ... it's just not happening).

As for the microphone, you can purchase special blockers that use a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack to block the port. These basically work the same way as any regular pair of wired headphones, so you can actually DIY a microphone blocker by cutting off the end of the earbuds and inserting it in the audio jack.

But you'll still have to pull the blocker out every time you actually want to use the microphone. To get past that, buy a microphone blocker that also features a passthrough option to plug your headphones into the blocker device. If you have Bluetooth earbuds, like AirPods, this shouldn't be an issue at all.

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Courtney Linder

Deputy Editor

Before joining Pop Mech, Courtney was the technology reporter at her hometown newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied English and economics. Her favorite topics include, but are not limited to: the giant squid, punk rock, and robotics. She lives in the Philly suburbs with her partner, her black cat, and towers upon towers of books.

How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You (2024)

FAQs

How to Tell If Your Apps Are Spying on You? ›

Strange permission requests

How can I tell if my phone is being monitored by a spy app? ›

15 signs someone is spying on your phone
  • Unfamiliar applications. ...
  • Anomalous data usage. ...
  • Your device is “rooted” or “jailbroken” ...
  • Your phone battery is draining fast. ...
  • Your phone is getting too hot. ...
  • Unusual activity on linked accounts. ...
  • Intrusive pop-ups. ...
  • Strange activity in standby mode.
Feb 21, 2024

How do you know if an app is watching you? ›

Contents
  • Check your data usage.
  • Investigate your camera's behavior.
  • Review your camera permissions.
  • Monitor your video call performance.
  • Listen for strange sounds in calls.
  • Review your location permissions.
  • Monitor your camera light indicator.
  • Look for newly added apps, photos, or video files.
Oct 25, 2023

What is the 3 digit number to see if your phone is tapped? ›

Fortunately, there's a code (netmonitor code) that helps you identify whether or not you're being tracked or tapped. To confirm this, dial any of the codes below for your phone's operating system: For Android devices, dial: *#*#197328640#*#* or *#*#4636#*#* For iPhones, dial: *3001#12345#*

Can apps secretly spy on you? ›

While the security issues with Android devices are widely known, there's another less recognized but equally concerning problem: the rise of spyware and stalkerware applications. These stealthy apps can be secretly installed on a person's phone, allowing someone to track their every move.

What is the code to check if your phone is monitored? ›

##4636## or ##197328640## ➡️ To Check Unknown Connections (Android) If you're concerned someone has installed malware or spyware on your Android phone, these codes open up a screen that lists all running processes and services.

How to use * * 4636 * *? ›

The * * 4636 * * Code in phone is a secret code that helps unlock the hidden menu in an Android phone. It technically acts as a diagnostic tool that helps you to check various details on your phone like IMEI number, data consumption on cellular mode and Wi-Fi.

How do you check if apps are listening? ›

Android Phones
  1. In the Settings menu, tap Privacy > Permission Manager.
  2. Here you can review which apps have permission to use the camera, microphone, or both. To change them, tap the app, then choose your permission settings.
Jul 13, 2023

Is someone watching me through my phone camera? ›

Look for newly strange apps, photos, or video files that appear on your phone. If someone uses your phone's camera to spy on you, the saved video content must go somewhere. You may notice odd recordings, photos, screenshots, or other unexplained files appearing on your device.

What is the *#21 trick? ›

Mobile security experts from both Google (Android) and Apple (iPhone) have addressed and clarified rumors related to *#21# code. It only checks if call forwarding is active on a phone or not. It doesn't relate to the phone's security or vulnerability to hacking.

What does ##002 do to your phone? ›

Dialing ##002# deactivates any conditional or unconditional call forwarding settings on your account and also deletes any data such as messages or voicemails that were previously diverted to another number. This code only applies to phones on GSM networks such as AT&T or T-mobile.

Can I check if my phone is tapped? ›

Your Phone Won't Shut Down

If your phone has trouble shutting down, that could be a sign that it is being tapped. When turning off your phone, check to see if the backlight stays on even when the phone is powered off or if shutdown attempts fail altogether. Randomly turning off or rebooting is another sign of trouble.

How do you know if an app is hidden? ›

Click on the home screen settings. It will navigate you to the Hide apps menu; tap on it. Here, you will see the hidden apps that are not showing in the app list. If the hidden screen doesn't show any apps or the Hide apps menu is missing, it means no apps are hidden in your device.

How do I know if my phone is linked to another device? ›

To check if there are other devices linked to your Android phone, launch your smartphone's Settings app. Depending on the brand or model, you may have to look for and tap “Linked devices” or “Connected devices.” Go through the list to ensure all items are familiar or yours.

How do you know if your phone is under surveillance? ›

Signs of phone monitoring include battery depletion, unfamiliar apps, overheating, data surge, device malfunctions, background noise, and strange browsing history. Safeguard measures include factory reset, updates, app deletion, anti-virus installation, and screen lock.

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