Why You Should Think Twice Before Allowing Apps to Access Your Microphone


You should always be skeptical when an app asks permission to access a feature it has no business using. Now, a new report from WIRED explains how granting apps access to your microphone can compromise your privacy. Even when it’s in your pocket, your phone may be having silent conversations with the stores around you without your knowledge.

Findings presented at this year's IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy [PDF] revealed that ultrasonic listening technology is built into 234 Android applications. That means those apps can detect certain sound “beacons” too high for human ears to hear. In theory, these signals can come from any device, even the speaker mounted outside a storefront.

After visiting 35 retail stores in Germany, the researchers found four of them used beacons. As long as you give the right app on your phone permission to listen, your microphone can pick up these signals and make note of your location for marketing purposes.

The study didn’t find any beacons coming from the television programs they analyzed, but it is possible for companies to embed them into TV commercials and websites to keep track of how consumers respond to ads. And it isn’t hard to imagine the same listening technology being used to record keyboard strokes and personal conversations, something researchers from University College London warned against in a study on the subject.

Though these apps rarely let you opt out of being spied on, you can limit the power they have. Go to settings on your mobile device to review your apps. Android owners can edit privacy settings through "App Permissions"; iOS 10 users can go to "Privacy" and hit "Microphone" to see which apps have permission to access it. It’s clear why Snapchat and Shazam would want to use the feature—less so for that random shopping app you downloaded the other week.

[h/t WIRED]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar


Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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These Are America's 20 Happiest States

Natalya Zaritskaya, Unsplash
Natalya Zaritskaya, Unsplash

Personal happiness is subjective, but there are many factors that contribute to someone's well-being. Income, sleep habits, and work-life balance are a few examples. By gauging how these factors affect people across the country, WalletHub was able to put together a map ranking the happiest states in the U.S. in 2020.

To compile the list below, the personal finance website determined how all 50 states performed in three categories: emotional and physical well-being, work environment, and community and environment. These three labels cover more than 30 specific criteria, including divorce rates, unemployment rates, adequate sleep levels, and average work hours.

Hawaii tops the list, earning a total score of 69.58 out of a possible 100. It ranks second in emotional and physical well-being and third in community and environment. Just behind The Aloha State is Utah, which beats out all other states when it comes to work environment. Minnesota, New Jersey, and Maryland round out the top five. You can read the full list of America's 20 happiest states below.

Judging happiness levels by state is just one way to view the country's mental health. For an even more localized snapshot of happiness across the U.S., check out the country's happiest cities.

  1. Hawaii
  2. Utah
  3. Minnesota
  4. New Jersey
  5. Maryland
  6. California
  7. North Dakota
  8. Iowa
  9. Idaho
  10. Connecticut
  11. Nebraska
  12. South Dakota
  13. Massachusetts
  14. Virginia
  15. Washington
  16. Vermont
  17. New York
  18. Wisconsin
  19. Nevada
  20. Arizona