Is my phone listening to my conversations? Britons believe the answer is yes

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
July 16, 2021, 11:20 AM UTC

Three in five smartphone owners say it’s likely that their device is actively listening to them without being prompted

It’s a conspiracy theory that refuses to go away: are our devices picking up on our conversations without being prompted and using the data to better target advertising? While this question has been debated for years, there are still no clear answers. Experts say it’s possible – and even easy for companies to do - while Google, Facebook and Apple vehemently deny it.

Smart home device owners are the most inclined to think their gadget is snooping on them, with seven in ten saying it’s either very (40%) or fairly (30%) likely. Many smartphone owners have the same concerns, with three in five believing it’s fairly (30%) or very (31%) probable.

Half of tablet users also believe it’s the case for their device, including a fifth (19%) who say it’s very feasible.

Laptops are the only device included in the survey where more people who own one than not consider it implausible, with 35% believing it’s likely compared with 51% who don’t.

Most people have been hit with targeted ads after speaking about a product

Two thirds of Britons (66%) say they have noticed receiving targeted adverts for a product online after having talked about it in person. But only a fifth (22%) believe it’s because their device is eavesdropping on their conversations.

The more common belief is that it’s due to their browsing history or websites using other personal data to target them with ads at 39%.

Younger people are more suspicious of their devices. Three quarters of 18 to 24-year-olds (74%) say they’ve noticed an oddly well-timed ad after speaking about a product. Britons in this age group as split on whether it’s due to their personal data being used by websites or if their devices are in fact listening in without being prompted at 34% vs 34%.

In contrast, among those who are 55 and older, 54% have noticed targeted ads after mentioning a product or brand. But 48% of all people in this age group say it’s due to companies using their personal data to target them, while only 9% suspect their devices of listening to their conversations.

See the full results here and here