We tend to give apps on our smartphones more access than is necessary. Usually when setting up apps we ignore the prompts and just hit “yes” to open up the app. Although app privileges can be changed after the fact, many don’t take the time or even know it exists. That leaves the opportunity for applications to take advantage of that without your knowledge. According to a post from the New York Times, some apps are using your microphone without your knowledge to better target advertisements. It’s time for Android to notify users when apps are accessing their smartphone’s microphone.
Google has already implemented similar notifications into Android when an app is accessing your location. This can be seen when the location icon in the status bar appears when it is in use. With the release of Android 8.0 Oreo, it will notify users when an app is running in the background. This is a great step in the right direction, but there still is nothing for microphone usage.
Android should notify you if an app is listening
Yes, Google is always listening for that “Ok Google” hotword, but it only records clips once that is triggered. There is a difference though. I consent to this “feature” and I know about it. When it comes to third-party apps that are going rogue and always listening/recording, that is a different story. Just like location and apps running in the background, it’s time for Google to give us a notification if our microphone is being accessed by an app.
This notification could be as simple as a microphone appearing in the status bar, just like when an app accesses your location. We have created a mock-up which can be seen above. I personally would prefer this approach as it is very subtle. It is also understandable that for an average user, this might not be enough. It is very easy to overlook an icon in the status bar.
Google could go the route of the apps “running in the background” notification. This approach is a lot more noticeable, but would also be a lot more informative. It could tell you which app is accessing the microphone and whether it is active while it is in the background. This would be extremely helpful to narrow down which app has gone rogue behind your back.
As time goes on, smartphones are going to get more and more sophisticated. That means having more access to our daily lives. Whether we purposefully agree to or not, apps are going to utilize whatever permissions they’re given. That means they can unknowingly use your microphone when you aren’t expecting it. That is why Google needs to implement a method to show users when their phone’s microphone is active.