Afbeelding: Ketut Subiyanto, bewerking: Metro
Can you easily eavesdrop on people with AirPods? It’s not as simple as popular TikTokkers would have you believe. A lot of videos are currently being made about an alleged eavesdropping feature of Apple’s AirPods. Those videos are viewed millions of times, but contain disinformation.
Popular accounts like OnlyJayus claim that it’s possible to eavesdrop on AirPods conversations by putting one AirPod in your ear and hiding the other AirPod in a room to be monitored.
Eavesdropping with AirPods not so easy
All videos follow a similar script. The TikTokker says he has found a new ‘hack’ that lets you eavesdrop on people very easily. All it would take is to hide an AirPod in a room that needs to be bugged. The other AirPod would then play live what the clogged AirPod’s microphone is picking up. Metro found dozens of videos claiming this, which have been viewed nearly 100 million times in total. The supposed trick does not work nor is it a new trick as many videos claim.
It concerns the live listening function that has been in iOS, the operating system of the iPhone, since 2020. It doesn’t use the AirPods’ microphone, but the iPhone’s microphone. So hiding an AirPod with someone who wants to eavesdrop on you is pointless. It is not the sound from the microphone in the AirPod that is heard, but the sound that the iPhone’s microphone picks up is used. Hiding an iPhone in a room or pocket is a lot trickier than a tiny AirPod.
It seems like a case of hearing the bell ring, but not knowing where the clapper hangs. It is striking that not only teenagers on TikTok parrot each other, but also adult creators who claim to be tech experts in their profiles simply copy this disinformation. Conclusion: Did a colleague forget an AirPod lying in a conference room? There’s no reason to assume he wants to eavesdrop on you.
The iPhone’s Live Listen feature uses the phone’s microphone to deliver amplified sound through the AirPods. Apple explains on its own site that this is mainly intended as a function for the hearing impaired. Verify for yourself that the AirPods microphone can indeed not be used to eavesdrop on rooms and people? Put in your AirPods and follow these steps:
Go to Settings > Control Center. Scroll down and tap the Add button next to the Hearing button. Tap Settings to save your changes. Open your iPhone’s control panel. Tap the button with the ear symbol. Turn on ‘listen live’. Click/tap for larger. (Screenshot: Subway)
When the feature is on, tap one of the microphones at the bottom of your AirPods. You won’t hear this. However, if you tap the bottom of your iPhone, you will hear the amplified sound. Prove that not the microphone of the AirPods, but that of the iPhone is used.
And what if someone uses their iPhone to eavesdrop?
Of course, someone can hide their iPhone in a room to eavesdrop on a conversation. Do you want to check on an iPhone whether the live listening function is enabled? Then open the control panel – this is also possible when the iPhone is locked – and see if the ear icon from the screenshots above shows a sound indicator that moves with the sound in the room. This indicates that the live listening function is enabled.
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Popular TikTokkers spread fake news about AirPods eavesdropping function