The Mute Button in Video Conferencing Apps May Not Mute Your Microphone
- A new study reports that pressing the mute on the top video conferencing apps might not work as you think.
- While many people think that pressing the mute button will prevent audio transmission through the mic, the apps still listen and transmit audio to its server continually or periodically.
- Since video conferencing apps don’t document that their software records audio, even when the muting function is on, many people misunderstand how the mute system works.
- Many assume that they cut audio input using the mute function, which might constitute a privacy risk.
- The study traced raw audio moving from the app to the audio driver of the underlying OS and eventually network and found that no matter the mute status, the apps occasionally collected audio data.
A new study shows that pressing the mute button on popular video conferencing apps such as Zoom may not work as many people think it should. The study found that activating the mute function in popular video conferencing apps does not cut audio transmission to the server.
The study tested several conferencing apps, including:
- Microsoft Team
- Google Meet
- Cisco Webs
- Jitsi Meet
What Happens When You Use The Mute Function
When you press the mute button on a video conferencing app, you only suppress the sound at the other end. However, your microphone still collects audio that the app uploads into its cloud servers.
To establish the audio transmission, a team of researchers traced the audio moving from popular video conferencing apps to the audio driver on system operating systems and eventually the network. The tracing allowed them to establish changes that happen when users use the mute function. The team found that even when users press the mute button, all the apps occasionally collect audio data, except for people using the browser’s software.
The researchers found that Zoom — the world’s most popular video conferencing software — continues to track if users continue to talk even when the app is on mute.
According to the study, the worst case was with Cisco Webex, which continued to transmit raw audio data from the microphone and transmitted it to their server as if the app was unmuted.
The Privacy Invasion Puzzle
After muting video conferencing apps, people wrongly believe that they’re private and nobody is listening to what they’re saying. As a result, users think they can say anything they want. However, the app still records audio input, which raises several security concerns.
First, even if the conferencing apps collect limited audio data when the mute function is on, it’s possible to use that data to know what the users are doing using a machine learning algorithm.
Secondly, even if your video conferencing app encrypts data transmission, secures its servers, and makes its employees abide by strict anti-abuse agreements, an attack by a man-in-the-middle might expose users.
Thirdly, people who mostly use video conferencing are high-ranking business executives, country-leading politicians, and members of national security boards. Any data leaks, in any case, can result in severe damage.
Lastly, if hackers got their way into your video conferencing app, and you were talking sensitive information when on mute, they’ll find what you were saying.
Violation of Regulatory Requirements
The mute button issue is also scary because of many compliance and regulatory requirements from bodies like HIPAA and FEDRAMP. The regulatory bodies require that the mute button cut the audio transmission.
Following the research, the regulatory bodies are planning to launch more investigations now that the world knows that the mute button might not work as many expect.
Few people are aware that video conferencing applications collect their audio even when on mute. In the study, around 70% of the participants believed that the mute button cut the transmission of microphone data or disabled the microphone.
Video conferencing app providers should provide detailed information about data collection scenarios instead of general ones. After all, all video conferencing software actively queries the microphone even when users activate the mute function.
For instance, Zoom tells users when they try to speak with their microphone muted to unmute it first. The problem is that the privacy of Zoom isn’t clear about the microphone access, which might violate users’ privacy.
Apart from Zoom, the study examined all the other video conferencing apps’ privacy policies but didn’t find any mention of a mute button collecting users’ audio. The policies were all vague. Google Meet state that they don’t collect audio data.
How to Protect Your Privacy When on Mute
One thing you can do is that if you’re using a mechanical microphone connected to your laptop via USB or jack cable, you can unplug it to mute the conversation. Physical muting will render mute on video conferencing apps useless.
Third, you can use your operating system audio control setting to mute your microphone input channel. That way, no app will receive audio volume.
All the above are difficult tasks for most users. However, you’d want to ensure ultimate privacy when holding mission-critical conversations.
The Mute Button on Video Call Doesn’t Keep You Safe
If you’ve been on video calls, muted, and they said something sensitive, thinking you’re safe, you should rethink. You shouldn’t be comfortable that the mute button is actively protecting you. The mute button won’t stop video conferencing apps from listening to you.
Video conferencing app captures every utterance you make while the mute function is on. The real question, however, is whether what you were saying was meaningful and risks being accessed by an attacker or an insider.
Alvarez Technology Group Can Help Your Business Have A Secure Video Conferencing
Your business can apply the most current cybersecurity practices to ensure your communications are secure. Since 2001, Alvarez Technology Group has been helping businesses to stay up-to-date with security solutions that secure their data, and we can help you too. Contact us today to let us help your business implement the most current tech solution to secure your communication.