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Shazam is always listening to you on Mac -- but not for long

Should Shazam keep your Mac's microphone on, even when you turn it off?

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Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
2 min read

Seven years later, Shazam is still an amazing idea -- just press a button to know the name of the song that's currently playing. That's all well and good, but what if the music discovery tool keeps on listening, even when you turn it off?

On Monday, benevolent hacker Patrick Wardle revealed that -- on Mac computers -- the Shazam app never lets go of your laptop or desktop microphone. It continues to listen even after after you've told the app to stop listening.

Don't get outraged just yet, though. According to a report at Motherboard, which spoke to Wardle, it doesn't look like Shazam is doing anything malicious with that data: not saving it, processing it, or phoning it back home to servers. It's simply on when it should be off.

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Shazam on Mac.

Shazam

But it's also not a bug: Shazam told Motherboard it's intentional, so that users don't have to wait several seconds for music to buffer before getting the name of a song.

That excuse doesn't really pass the smell test, so we spoke to Shazam's Chief Product Officer Fabio Santini to understand the situation a little more. He explained that it was just a choice the company made in the Mac version -- and only the Mac version -- since the whole automatically-running-in-the-background thing is what the company promised on Mac since day one.

Santini told us that even if a hacker could get hold of that data, it still wouldn't let them eavesdrop on your personal conversations: Shazam just samples a few points along the audio wave to create a digital "fingerprint" that it matches against other "fingerprints" in the company's music database.

"Those points can't be reverse-engineered to reconstruct original audio," he tells us.

Still, Shazam has a target on its back now that the always-recording feature has been revealed -- what if hackers could figure out how to take advantage of the fact that the microphone stays on? (Stranger things have happened.)

This may all be a moot point, though, because the publicity has convinced Shazam to change how its Mac app works. "We want to be sensitive to what our users think and feel," says Santini.

"Even though we don't recognize a meaningful risk, we want to make this configuration change to show that we care, and we pay attention, and we want them to feel good about using Shazam on their Mac."

Santini says the company should be updating its Mac app within the next few days.