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Muting your mic doesn’t stop big tech from recording your audio

Muting your mic doesn’t stop big tech from recording your audio

Anytime you use a remote video conferencing application, you are sending your voice data to the company hosting the services. Which means, according to a new study everyone of your voice data. This includes audio and background noise whether you’re broadcasting or muting it.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison investigated “several common applications” to determine how well video conferencing applications capture data while users use the “mute” button within the software.

According to a university press release, their findings were substantive:

They used runtime binary analysis tools to track raw audio in common video conferencing applications as audio travels from the application to the computer audio driver and then to the network while the application is muted.

They found that all of the apps they tested sometimes collect raw audio data while mute is active, with one common app collecting the information and delivering the data to its server at the same rate regardless of whether the microphone is muted or not.

Unfortunately, because this research has not been published, we cannot confirm the specific applications tested. Therefore, at the moment, we cannot name and shame them.

However, the effectiveness of this paper is not necessarily in doubt given the fact that it has been accepted into the Privacy Improvement Technologies Symposium 2022. We will just have to wait and see who will be dropped when the paper is published in June.

However, this does not mean that we cannot draw some conclusions. According to the researchers, this data can be used to extract useful information. And with a little machine learning, this information can paint an incredibly vivid picture of a user’s reality — again, even with the app’s microphone muted.

The research team was able to determine what specific sound was being transmitted during the test, and by extrapolating that data, they were able to predict what conclusions the big technology could make.

Of course, big tech uses artificial intelligence to analyze everything. So the researchers built their own algorithms to study the data. What they found was amazing.

According to the summary of the unpublished paper:

Using the network traffic we intercepted on the way to the telemetry server, we implement a background activity classifier to prove the concept and prove the feasibility of inferring continuous background activity during the meeting – cooking, cleaning, writing, etc. We achieved 81.9% macro accuracy in identifying six common background activities using outgoing telemetry packets that were intercepted when the user was muted.

In other words: Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were able to build machine learning models capable of determining what a phone conferencing app user was doing while their microphone was muted with over 80% accuracy.

file under: Imagine what Google or Microsoft could do with their massive AI models. Yikes!

nervous take: Should you be worried? Yeah. definitely. Should you stop using these apps? No, because that’s not really an option for everyone.

Our real concern is that the big tech either doesn’t care whether users know they’re being recorded even when they’re muted, or it never stops thinking about users Will be Care. Either way, it shows an annoying level of disconnection from the user experience.

Big Tech’s unspoken slogan is “data at any cost”, and that just proves how thirsty the beast is. There is no good reason not to explicitly inform users in large font that the mute button does not stop the audio feed to the server.

Fortunately, you have options. If you really want to mute the audio broadcast, you will need to do a double mute. If you are lucky enough to have a headset with a physical mute button, use that to mute the headset and then use the button in the app as an extra layer of muting.

If your headset does not have a physical mute button, or if you use an internal microphone to communicate, you will need to mute the system by muting the microphone from the system settings of your operating system, as well as the mute application.

At the end of the day, it’s unclear exactly what big tech is doing with this data. The scope of the study did not include the investigation of big technology – and we’ll update this piece if Zoom, Microsoft or Google returns to us with a statement.

But, regardless of the fact that it is hereby collected misleading Circumstances are a cause for great concern.

Forcing users to go through OS menus to ensure they achieve a modicum of privacy is an anti-user policy. Moreover, it shows how sensitive our audio data is more than our video data.

As lead author of the study Qasim Fawaz said in a university press release:

With the camera, you can turn it off or even put your hand on it, and no matter what you do, no one will be able to see you. I don’t think this exists for microphones.

Don’t forget to double the mute, folks. You may forget to double Unmute From time to time, but the trade-off prevents Google, Microsoft, and all others from training their devices on the sounds surrounding your private life.

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