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ChatGPT voice just got a big privacy upgrade for background conversations

Published Jun 4th, 2024 6:50AM EDT
GPT-4o is a new multimodal model that will power ChatGPT Free and Plus.
Image: OpenAI

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ChatGPT went down early on Tuesday morning, but the outage seems to be fixed, as OpenAI has figured out what caused the new ChatGPT service disruption. I say new because ChatGPT went out for several hours just a few days ago. Hopefully, this won’t become routine for OpenAI’s popular chatbot, especially if it becomes a part of the AI services Apple built into iOS 18.

But there’s an actually interesting development from ChatGPT this week. It appears OpenAI has rolled out a new setting for the voice chats you might have with the chatbot on iPhone and Android. There’s a new Background Conversations setting that you should inspect right away.

Depending on how you use voice with ChatGPT, you’ll want to enable or disable the privacy feature.

OpenAI rolled out support for voice conversations in its mobile apps last November, well before the amazing GPT-4o multimodal upgrade that ChatGPT got in May. I’ve already shown you how to use ChatGPT on iPhone, saying that’s what I wanted from Siri.

ChatGPT just works. It understands your prompts and replies immediately. At the same time, you’ll get a transcription of the conversation so you can come back to.

ChatGPT voice works even if you leave the app. On iPhone, you’ll get a Live Activity “complication” in the Dynamic Island to indicate ChatGPT is listening and can continue the conversation. The chat will go on even when the screen is off, with ChatGPT replies showing up as notifications on the Lock Screen.

That’s where the new Background Conversations setting comes into play. ChatGPT users have just noticed the new setting on iPhone and Android. It’s a toggle you can turn on or off, though it won’t go green when enabled on iPhone as you expect.

ChatGPT's new Background Conversations setting is enabled on my iPhone.
ChatGPT’s new Background Conversations setting is enabled on my iPhone. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

“Background conversations keep the conversation going in other apps or while your screen is off,” reads the text under the setting. Enable it, and you can chat with ChatGPT while using other apps or when the screen is off. You’ll have to manually turn off the conversation when you’re done chatting by going back to the app.

If you disable the new setting, conversations will stop once you leave the ChatGPT app. The setting will be disabled by default, or at least it was on my iPhone.

To manage the new setting, just go to the mobile app, tap on your name, and scroll until you find the Background Conversations toggle.

I just tested the new feature, and it works as intended. I’ll turn it on and leave it on as I want to keep talking to ChatGPT without worrying about losing progress as I use other apps or turn off the screen. All I need to do is remember to “hang up” the chat once I get my information.

The good news is that it’s not a big privacy problem. ChatGPT won’t be listening to everything I do. It can’t help itself from replying to anything it hears, so that will be my cue to turn off the chat if I forget to do it.

I do expect voice to be the next big thing in multitasking on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, once Apple’s big Siri upgrade rolls out next year. Once such features are available, I’ll want the AI to always listen to my commands, as long as the voice chats are private. That’s because Siri AI will let me control app features on my devices.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.