Big Brother may be listening, even when you think you’ve blocked him


It seems that muting your microphone when on a video call . . . doesn’t.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison investigated “many popular apps” to determine the extent that video conferencing apps capture data while users employ the in-software ‘mute’ button.

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

They used runtime binary analysis tools to trace raw audio in popular video conferencing applications as the audio traveled from the app to the computer audio driver and then to the network while the app was muted.

They found that all of the apps they tested occasionally gather raw audio data while mute is activated, with one popular app gathering information and delivering data to its server at the same rate regardless of whether the microphone is muted or not.

. . .

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

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

There’s more at the link, including ways to “double-mute” your microphone to overcome such snooping.

I’d love to know how many companies are using such software to “listen in” to what their work-from-home employees are really doing.  I’m willing to bet it won’t be a small proportion.  This is yet another way in which our privacy is being degraded and ignored.



  1. This reminds me of the Samsung TVs from several years ago that never shut off the microphone…
    At this point, you have to assume anything with a microphone, or that COULD have a microphone, is listening.

  2. This isn't surprising, my company uses a very popular online meeting service, and if you're muted via software, it will prompt you to unmute if you start talking (or just make noise).

    I use a headset, and I mute at the hardware level when I need to actually mute…

  3. "Shoot the spies. Hang the spies. Kill the spies. Geld them first." on another device, looped playback. What, me evil? If any complaint… well, they can't without giving themselves away, can they? Or maybe the entire discography of Spike Jones… and I have used Pennsylvania 6-500 on loop to some effect, long before this.

  4. Clearly, what we need to do is observe the Daily Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours, in front of those "muted" microphones.

  5. Cut. The. Mike.
    (Literally: Open up the case, and cut the microphone wires. Nothing short of that is going to work.)

    Computing 101:
    Hardware can be made secure.
    Software never is.
    Write this down on your hand in Sharpie, lest you forget.

  6. I've had a couple of Zoom sessions, using a borrowed camera/mike, connected via USB. When not in session, the camera/mike is unplugged from the USB cable.

    My laptop has the camera covered, and allegedly the microphone off. Since it's hooked up to my "work from home" monitors, and I work solo, about all they could glean from listening is my musical preferences coming over the computer speakers.

    But yeah, I try to not say anything of importance within earshot of any electronics.

  7. Plug a dummy plug into the microphone jack on any computer that has a non-USB external microphone input. It jack will in nearly all cases do a hardware bypass of the internal microphone circuit.

  8. We have our GPS turned off on our phones and pads, we don’t use any verbal command apps and live off grid. You wouldn’t believe how often we have been talking about something and the next thing we are getting adds about the topic!

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