Well, This Is Scary—Your Android Phone Might Secretly Be Recording You

Just when we thought Google couldn't get any creepier.

Well-This-Is-Scary-Your-Android-Phone_304936613-OPOLJAOPOLJA/ShutterstockChances are, you’ve probably used Google Assistant if you have an Android phone—basically the same as iPhones’ Siri—to set an alarm or ask what the weather is. (Find out how its jokes compare to other smartphone personal assistants.) You can access voice control by holding down the phone button or saying “OK Google.” But it turns out hackers spying on you through your laptop camera and a cell phone virus shouldn’t be your only tech fears. Google Assistant might be recording your voice, even when you don’t ask.

Just saying “OK” in a normal conversation can trigger Google Assistant to start recording your voice for about 10 to 20 seconds, according to The Sun. It won’t turn on every time, but something like “OK, go for it” apparently sounds close enough to confuse Assistant. Now think about how many times you say “OK” in a normal day. Yowza.

The alarming thing is, those little sound bytes don’t just disappear—Google keeps them. “For each voice query made to Voice Search, we store the language, the country, the utterance and our system’s guess of what was said,” Google states in its policy for Voice Search, which Assistant uses. “We keep utterances to improve our services, including to train the system to better recognize the correct search query.”

Afraid Google picked up some dirty secrets from your latest gossip session? Thankfully, there’s actually an easy way to find out—and get rid of the evidence.

Head to myactivity.google.com and hit “Activity controls” on the left side of the screen. Scroll down past all these other creepy things Google knows about you (those are creepy enough) and find “Voice & Audio Activity.” Click “manage activity” to find a list of all the recordings Google has of you.

Once you’re done cringing at all the awkward small talk your phone picked up, you can delete a single recording, or even all of them. To get rid of just one, hit “Details” under the item, and select “More” to find the delete option. Want to clear it all? On the top left, click “Delete activity by.” Under the “Delete by date” option, choose “All time” to erase everything.

The thing is, Google doesn’t specify whether it keeps the recordings for itself after you wipe them out of your activity feed, so there’s no guarantee they’re gone for good.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop Google from keeping your conversations if you want to use voice control, even if you turn voice and audio activity off. Turning the option off just means voice clips “may only be saved using anonymous identifiers,” according to its site. So Google still knows what you said, even if it doesn’t know it’s you, according to its site. If that creeps you out, the safest thing might be to skip voice control altogether. Get over the bad news with something a bit more lighthearted: finding out what your smartphone says about your personality.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.