Video call

Video calling apps could secretly listen to you – even if you’re ‘muted’

As millions of people have started working from home during the pandemic, the “mute” button has become a godsend on video calls, keeping the noise of everyday life from creeping into business meetings.

But the mute button may not keep you as safe as you think.

A new study revealed that many of the best video calling apps continue to listen to your audio even when you press the mute button, which means they collect data from your home when you least expect it.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison investigated many different video conferencing apps to see if they still access the microphone while muted.



Video calling apps could listen to you at home even if you’re on mute

Professor Kassem Fawaz said: “It turns out that in the vast majority of cases when you mute yourself, these apps don’t give up access to the microphone.

“And that’s a problem. When you’re muted, people don’t expect these apps to collect data.”

The researchers started by asking 223 video call users if they understood what a mute button does. The majority of them believe that apps should not be able to collect data when disabled.

The team then investigated how the mute button actually works, finding that all of the apps in question collect “raw audio data” from the microphone when muted, with one app in question gathering information and sending it to a waiter.



Apps like Zoom and Google Meet have grown in popularity since the pandemic began
Apps like Zoom and Google Meet have grown in popularity since the pandemic began

They then tried putting the background audio into an AI to see if it could figure out what was going on, like cooking, eating, playing music, or cleaning. The AI ​​was able to determine with 82% accuracy what people were doing, which would give a video-calling app — or worse, your boss — insight into exactly what you’re doing at home.

Although Fawaz and his team have not confirmed which apps they used, they believe it raises privacy concerns. Fawaz said, “With a camera, you can turn it off or even put your hand on it, and whatever you do, no one can see you,” Fawaz explains. “I don’t think it exists for microphones.”

Video calling apps are said to be 21 times more popular than they were before the pandemic. Popular video calling apps include Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and Slack.