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posted by mrpg on Saturday April 16 2022, @05:39PM   Printer-friendly
from the hush dept.

You're muted... or are you? Videoconferencing apps may listen even when mic is off:

Kassem Fawaz's brother was on a videoconference with the microphone muted when he noticed that the microphone light was still on—indicating, inexplicably, that his microphone was being accessed.

[...] "It turns out, in the vast majority of cases, when you mute yourself, these apps do not give up access to the microphone," says Fawaz. "And that's a problem. When you're muted, people don't expect these apps to collect data."

[...] 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.

The researchers then decided to see if they could use data collected on mute from that app to infer the types of activities taking place in the background. Using machine learning algorithms, they trained an activity classifier using audio from YouTube videos representing six common background activities, including cooking and eating, playing music, typing and cleaning. Applying the classifier to the type of telemetry packets the app was sending, the team could identify the background activity with an average of 82% accuracy.

[...] "With a camera, you can turn it off or even put your hand over it, and no matter what you do, no one can see you," says Fawaz. "I don't think that exists for microphones."

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:55PM (2 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 16 2022, @10:55PM (#1237557)

    Webcam/laptop/etc. makers could easily do one better - just put a physical mute switch on the mic. Flip the switch, it physical disconnects the mic. The OS doesn't even have to know it happened. All the convenience we already have, with less confusion, and no possibility of being circumvented by hackers.

    There's lots of reasons to want to be able to turn off your mic and/or camera, I don't understand why virtually no one supports it. I mean it's literally as easy as adding a switch that severs a key wire, you'd think at least a respectable percentage of devices would try to appeal to the "I like my privacy" crowd.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18 2022, @04:11PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 18 2022, @04:11PM (#1237933)

    But such a component might add 15 cents to the cost of the device! That is clearly unacceptable!

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Monday April 18 2022, @04:28PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Monday April 18 2022, @04:28PM (#1237939)

      And just think how much you could save selling empty toaster boxes instead of putting a toaster in them!

      I'd gladly pay $1 more for the functionality. Maybe even $10. And more importantly it would make for an easy decision between buying a laptop from Company A, rather than an otherwise similar model from a competitor.