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Ask HN: Microphone On/Off LED Light for better privacy?
6 points by ivnubinas 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 4 comments
Every laptop's camera has a hardware controlled light which is turn on when the camera is recording. Is there a particular reason why microphones don't have the same feature?

I think people would like to know when their laptops are listening. What you guys think?

That would be nice, and I love the camera LEDs. Also, it is far harder to physically stop a microphone from receiving audio as compared to just slapping something on your camera. Physical barriers are important, as software cannot bypass that.

There are things like Mic-Lock[1] but software could be written to bypass it and use the built-in microphone (still love these though!)

While not a hardware LED you could use Oversight[2] or Micro Snitch [3] on Mac. Oversight users free, but Micro Snitch comes with Little Snitch. I use Micro Snitch, so I do not have much experience with Oversight, but I love how you can set Micro Snitch to have a floating icon in any corner you choose. This icon would turn on when either your camera or mic is activated. Therefore, you could see when it is turned on. If it gets annoying, you can have it in the menu bar as well.

While it is still a software solution, it’s the best we have. Hopefully one day we can have a microphone LED.

[1]: https://mic-lock.com

[2]: https://www.objective-see.com/products/oversight.html

[3]: https://obdev.at/products/microsnitch/index.html

Technically, many microphone types (MEMS, and electret) are a sensing membrane which are always reacting to the air pressure changes ( and other energy transfers - depending on microphone technology) regardless of being “on” or “off”. It’s technically always “hot” even when muted by software - which is why software mutes and software controlled LEDs can’t be trusted.

The safest way to disable a microphone is to physically disconnect the microphone, which is offered on some modern devices (hardware kill switches) - but isn’t an option on any device I personally own or have ever owned.

I know of patent pending ways I invented to disable the microphone - but it’s an extremely hard problem to solve. Attempting to isolate/insulate/block the microphone are futile or impractical due to the amount of sound reflecting/absorbing material you would have to attach to your Mic.

Do you think a company could make money selling the intellectual property to externally “kill” a MIC without harming it in our current society? My company doesn’t seem to think so :(

Although this is probably a bit paranoid, if you are privacy conscious, I wouldn't even trust the camera LED to be trustworthy and would advise you to physically cover your camera and mic when you're not using it.

Source? Privacy expert Mark Zuckerberg [0]

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/22/mark-zuck...

Puri.sm has hardware kill switches for the microphone and camera: https://puri.sm/learn/hardware-kill-switches/

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