What You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Spying Devices

man listening music on his headphones outdoors
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I often worry about my privacy, from what I send in a text to what I’m searching for online.

Smart devices are making their way into more homes each day, including my own. And the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal certainly didn’t help me feel comfortable with the safety of my data.

And now, a report from The New York Times revealed over 250 apps in the Google Play Store (as well as a few on iOS) contained a software called Alphonso, which runs in the background while you use your favorite applications.

The software listens in to discover your interests and then uses that data to present specific ads to you while you’re scrolling.

Items like wireless Bluetooth headphones, an iPhone or a laptop computer with a front-facing camera could be potential security threats if you’re not careful. In 2017, a lawsuit even alleged that Samsung Smart TVs secretly recorded consumers’ private conversations.

When it comes to protecting my privacy, I’m not as paranoid as my best friend’s mom, who has her desktop computer’s camera covered in black electrical tape, but I still take some precautions when it comes to allowing access to my devices.

How to Protect Yourself

Let’s start with what you can control when it comes to what your devices see and hear.

As scary as these situations sound, most people don’t realize that they are the ones who granted access to the spying software. Alphonso representatives claimed to have included a disclaimer in the applications’ descriptions that follow the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines, but let’s face it — does anyone really read those?

When an application prompts you to allow it access to your microphone, camera or location, you have the option to say no.

Smartphones typically have privacy options located in the Settings application. From there, you can decide if you want your phone to know your location or have access to the microphone or camera. These options also often pop up when using an application for the first time.

Obviously, apps like Snapchat or Instagram will need access to your camera if you plan on using them. Facebook doesn’t necessarily need access to your microphone unless you plan on going live.

Keep in mind, if you completely remove location access, apps that inform you of weather or directions won’t work. Depending on your smartphone, it may be easier to allow access to certain applications one by one rather than all at once.

How to File a Claim

The easiest way to stay informed of any lawsuits or potential recalls regarding products you’ve purchased is to register them online. Most items come with registration cards that are often tossed in the trash along with their packaging.

But the five minutes it takes to register your product could end up saving you cash in the long run.

If your registration cards are long gone by now, you can still cash in on certain class-action lawsuits. Sites like Top Class Actions and Class Action Rebates allow you to search for current claims, ranging from probiotic supplements to unwanted text messages. These sites are constantly updated and send newsletters out via email subscriptions.

Filing a claim is simple. Top Class Actions includes links to the official legal documentation of each lawsuit, which includes electronic forms to complete the claim process. While most claims don’t require proof of purchase, it does help to have that information available.

When speaking to USA Today, Scott Hardy, founder and CEO of Top Class Actions, said, “The settlement administrators are dealing with tens of thousands, if not millions, of claims and 99% of people don’t submit any proof at all. So if you’re submitting any kind of proof attached to your claim, then you’re going to get a little extra special care and that’s going to help you.”

If you can’t find the receipt for a purchase, credit or debit card statements can often work and tend to accrue larger payouts.

Once you’ve filed your claim, be sure to save the details, including claim number and date of submission. Some claims can take months or even years to pay out, so it’s important to be patient and keep track of everything over time. When that check finally appears in your mailbox, cash it quickly. Many checks are only valid for up to 180 days after their date of issue.

Finally, while most of us have gone paperless, some companies still send class-action lawsuit postcards via snail mail. Don’t ignore these. They often include a reference number for settlements regarding common products.

You just might be able to cash in on a pair of spying headphones — or a smart TV that knows way too much about your solo karaoke sessions.

Morgan Pritchett is a tech-loving millennial with newly evolved trust issues, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg. Most of her time is spent watching sports, reading comic books or hiking along trails with her pup, Ellie.