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Home > Smart Living> Innovation > Can iPhone users really eavesdrop on you with this little-known feature? 

Can iPhone users really eavesdrop on you with this little-known feature?

In short, yes. A TikTok user recently found a ‘hidden’ iPhone hack but it is, in fact, an audio listening feature called Live Listen that has been around for a while now

The new Apple AirPods 3 are debuted during the Unleashed virtual product launch in Hastings-On-Hudson, New York, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 18 2021.
The new Apple AirPods 3 are debuted during the Unleashed virtual product launch in Hastings-On-Hudson, New York, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 18 2021. (Bloomberg)

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A recent story this week on technology website BGR talked about TikTok users finding an iPhone hack that enables someone to listen in on conversations from nearly 50 feet away. According to the story, this iPhone hack went viral after it was highlighted by actress Elizabeth Henstridge who plays the role of Jemma Simmons in the popular Marvel TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Here’s what the hack is all about: after setting up your iPhone to always be in a “listening” mode, users can receive the audio picked up by the device right back to their AirPods. According to the BGR story, this iPhone “trick” also works with regular AirPods, Powerbeats, and AirPods Max.

Also read: More than music: Spotify is testing a TikTok-style video feed

But this iPhone trick is an Apple feature that has been around for years now. It is called Live Listen. According to Apple, with the Live Listen feature your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can act like a microphone that sends sound to your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, Powerbeats Pro, or Beats Fit Pro. The feature can help you hear a conversation in a noisy area or even hear someone speaking across the room.

A file photo of the Apple iPhone 12. According to Apple, with the Live Listen feature your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can act like a microphone that sends sound to your AirPods.
A file photo of the Apple iPhone 12. According to Apple, with the Live Listen feature your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can act like a microphone that sends sound to your AirPods. (REUTERS)

This is how you can set it up on your device by adding it to your ‘Control Center’. Go to Settings > Control Center. Scroll down and tap the ‘Add’ button next to the ‘Hearing’ button icon. Tap ‘Settings’ to save the changes. Once this is done, open the Control Center on your iPhone or iPod touch, or iPad. Tap the Hearing button and then tap Live Listen. Place your device in front of the person that you want to hear. Make sure to adjust the volume on your device if you can't hear well enough.

You can also see your headphone audio levels in real time as you're listening to content. You can quickly glance to see detailed decibel-level information, the Apple website explains. If you cannot connect to your AirPods, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, Powerbeats Pro, or Beats Fit Pro, or if the Live Listen feature won’t turn on, make sure that Bluetooth is turned on and that your headphones are charged. As per the Apple website, this feature can also be used with Made for iPhone hearing aids by going into the device’s Accessibility settings.

BGR’s Yoni Heisler rightly makes a key observation about how such features can also be a security or privacy concern. So always be wary of how you use this feature and what you say around any iPhone which might not be yours. The old technology adage – “your phones are always listening” – might actually be true. 

Interestingly, Google’s Pixel devices also have a ‘Now Playing’ feature, which works somewhat differently. With this feature switched on, your Pixel device can identify what music or song is playing near you, with the help of onboard hardware, software, and Google’s machine learning tools. Google introduced this feature with the Pixel 2 in 2018.

Also read: Playing it by the ear: the art of debate on audio social apps

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