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The Software Mute Button Is A Sham

The Software Mute Button Is A Sham

Anytime you use a video teleconferencing app, you’re sending your audio data to the company hosting the services. And, according to a new study, that means all of your audio data. This includes voice and background noise whether you’re broadcasting or muted.

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. The result was shocking, as it was found that all the apps send audio data to their servers even when Mute is activated.

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The Usage Of Raw Audio Data

The Usage Of Raw Audio Data

According to the researchers, this data could be used to extract meaningful information. And, with a little machine learning, that information can paint an incredibly vivid picture of a user’s reality — again, even with your microphone muted in the app.

The research team was able to determine what specific audio was being sent during testing and, by extrapolating that data, they were able to predict what inferences big tech could make.

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The Troublesome Information

The Troublesome Information

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.

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The Real Concern

Our real concern is that big tech either doesn’t care whether users know they’re being recorded even when they’re muted, or it never stopped to think users would care. Either way, it shows a disturbing level of detachment from the user experience.

Big tech’s unspoken mantra is “data at all costs,” and this just goes to prove how thirsty the beast is. There’s no good reason not to explicitly inform users in large print that the mute button doesn’t stop their audio feed to the server.

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The Solution

If you truly want to mute your audio feed, you need to perform a double mute. If you’re fortunate enough to own a headset that has a physical mute button on it, use that to mute your headset and then use the button in the app as an extra layer of muting.

If your headset doesn’t have a physical mute button, or you’re using an onboard microphone to communicate, you’ll need to do a system mute by muting your microphone from the system settings in your operating system, as well as muting in the app.

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Evil Tech At Its Best

Evil Tech At Its Best

Forcing users to go into operating system menus in order to ensure they’re achieving a modicum of privacy is an anti-user policy. And, furthermore, it demonstrates how much more sensitive our audio data can be than our video data.

Don’t forget to double mute! You’ll probably forget to double unmute from time to time, but the trade-off is keeping Google, Microsoft, and all the others from training their machines on the ambient sounds of your private life.

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CURATED BY

jopineda

Illustrator

CURATOR'S NOTE

The Mute Button On Your Laptop Isn't Private

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