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License To Listen: Apple AirPods’ New Feature

With Live Listen now available for Apple AirPods, people are discovering a feature that feels like something straight out of a James Bond movie. While all this hidden function does is use your iPhone’s microphone to amplify sound and send it straight into the connected AirPod, it can be used as a sort of “spy gag,” according to Todd Haselton from CNBC.

“You can leave your iPhone on a table and listen in on the conversation even as you walk away, as long as the AirPods maintain the Bluetooth connection to your phone,” Haselton said.

In other words, if you plop your iPhone down on your desk and wait in the hallway behind the closed door of your dorm room, every word your roommate says on the FaceTime call to her mom will be transmitted straight to your waiting ears.  

However, the Live Listen function was not created for this reason, nor was it made exclusively for AirPods. According to David Phelan from Forbes, “Live Listen has been around for over four years…until last fall it has only worked with Made for iPhone hearing aids but with iOS 12 you can add AirPods to that list.”

The original purpose of Live Listen was to simply help people hear better, Phelan says, functioning as a sort of hearing aid and amplifying whatever sound is transmitted through the phone’s audio.   

Despite initial intent, some still find Live Listen unsettling. Freshman cybersecurity major Kylan Tomita, a self-proclaimed “techie,” said that although he was eager to try out the new feature, he was not happy to find out what it actually was.

“My roommate immediately downloaded the update and looked up how to use it. The AirPods acted as a live wireless microphone, [which] made me incredibly uncomfortable,” he said. “With the tap of a single button…he was able to overhear any conversation.”

Tomita said he is not only made uncomfortable by the feature, but he also feels it crosses the line in other ways too.

“Not only are updates like Live Listen an infringement on personal privacy, but the fact that it is so easily accessible to the public is infuriating,” he said.

Others, however, view Live Listen from a different perspective. Sophomore information systems major Ashley Manzo said that because technology and security is a very open territory right now, a part of it is understanding that this technology is the new norm.

“When Siri first came out, there was a lot of concern for it…[tracking] everything you’re saying. Also with tracking your location on Find My Friends and Snapchat, there was concern,” she said. “The technology itself isn’t bad…I think it’s cool. Of course, there will always be those who are concerned, but I’m sure [Live Listen] will be widely accepted in the future.”  

If you’re eager to test out this new function, the Apple Support Page gives a step-by-step on how to set it up. Happy listening!


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Kayla Wong

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