How To: The Easiest Way to Secretly Record Someone's Conversation with Your iPhone

The Easiest Way to Secretly Record Someone's Conversation with Your iPhone

Your iPhone is a fantastic, easy-to-use tool for recording audio, but it's not as simple to secretly record conversations. Apple's Voice Memos app is great for taking audio notes and recording meetings, lectures, and other talks to reference later, but doing it without being noticed is tough unless you know the hidden shortcut.

Typically, to make an audio recording in Voice Memos, you'd have to open the app, hit record, then hit stop. You could also add the control to Control Center so that you could open Control Center, long-press the control, and start a new recording, which opens Voice Memos. There's also Siri, which will only open the app and not create a new recording for you.

No matter which of those methods you try to use, you'll likely be spotted trying to secretly record a conversation since you have to fumble around with your iPhone. When you finally get a recording started, you can turn off the display, and it'll still record, so at least there's that. But that's not enough to remain unnoticed.

There are third-party voice recording apps with features that make secret recordings easier, but they require you to add another app to your iPhone, which takes up both real estate on your home screen (and App Library) and storage space. Instead, you can use the Shortcuts app, which is already installed on your iPhone by default, to create a shortcut to secretly start an audio recording faster.

By unlocking and utilizing Back Tap, the accessibility feature in iOS 14 and later, you can make it so that you can start recording audio simply by tapping on the back of your iPhone. To top it off, you can add an action to lower your screen brightness so that no one but you can see what you're doing on your device.

Prerequisites

  • iPhone 8 or newer: Back Tap is only available on iPhone 8 and later, so an iPhone 7 or older won't do.
  • iOS 14: Back Tap is only available in iOS 14 and later.
  • Shortcuts app: It's pre-installed on iOS 13 and later, but if you removed it for some reason, you can re-install it from the App Store.
  • Voice Memos or Files app: These two apps are both pre-installed on iOS, but they are removable. If you no longer have one or the other, you can re-install Voice Memos or Files from the App Store. (See Step 2 below to choose which is best for you.)

Important Note

Federal law says that it's OK for you to record someone or a group of people without their knowledge as long as you're a part of the conversation. If you're not, you need just one person from the group to permit you. Many states, 35 to be exact (plus Washington, D.C.), have similar laws, but 15 states require consent from all parties involved. The more you know, right? (More detailed info about these laws.)

Step 1: Create a New Custom Shortcut

There is no default action for Back Tap that uses Voice Memos, so you'll have to build a shortcut that can be linked to a Back Tap gesture. Launch Shortcuts, go to "My Shortcuts," and then tap on the plus (+) icon in the top right.

Step 2: Choose Between Voice Memo & Audio Recording

Before you start building the shortcut, there are two options for you to choose from. First, you can record directly to Voice Memos. Second, you opt to record audio straight to the Files app.

  1. Record to Voice Memos: If you go this route, the shortcut will redirect you to the app, where it will immediately begin to capture audio. This is a good option because it saves the address of where the audio is captured, allows you to enhance the audio, and continues capturing sounds while you use other apps on your iPhone.
  2. Record to Files: If you're not particularly fond of Voice Memos, Files is the way to go. The shortcut will produce a full-screen recording window to let you know that it's recording. This option is good because it provides an easier way to stop the recording (by setting a timer or tapping anywhere on the screen ), and it saves the captured audio to a pre-chosen folder on iCloud in the Files app. You could also opt for Dropbox or another storage service, and you can even connect them to Files so to keep all of your online storage accounts in one place.

We'll show you how to create a shortcut for each of the options above. Both options record audio in M4A format (Apple MPEG-4 audio).

Option 1: Record to Voice Memos

In the new shortcut you've created, tap "Add Action" or the search bar at the bottom, and type in "memo" or "voice memo." From the results, choose "Record a new voice memo."

Now, disable the "Show When Run" toggle in the action (to make it more discreet) and hit "Next" in the top right. That's all there is to the shortcut. On the next screen, name it whatever you want, but it's better if you go with something simple like "Record Audio" or "Secret Audio." Hit "Done" in the top right to save it.

Option 2: Record to Files

In the new shortcut you've created, tap "Add Action" or the search bar at the bottom, and type in "record" or "record audio." From the results, choose "Record Audio."

Next, tap "Show More" in the action that appears and configure the settings as you'd like. You can choose to change any of the following options.

  • Audio Quality: It's set to "Normal" by default, but if you want a better recording that takes up slightly more space, choose "Very High."
  • Start Recording: It's set to "On Tap" by default, but that's not quick enough for a secret recording. So change that to "Immediately."
  • Finish Recording: It's set to "On Tap" by default, and that's a good option if you have no idea how long the conversation or talk will be that you want to capture. When you're ready to stop recording, just tap the screen. If you know how long you want to capture the audio, you can switch it to "After Time," then enter the duration in minutes and seconds. Instead of having to do any more tapping, you can just let it shut down and save on its own.

To save the audio recording to Files, you need another action. So tap on the plus (+) icon under the current action or the search bar at the bottom, and type in "save" or "save file." From the results, choose "Save File." In the action card, you can customize the following options.

  • Service: By default, the audio will be recorded to iCloud in Files, but you can change that to any number of third-party services, such as Dropbox, but only if you have the app. Again, you can connect many third-party services to Files to consolidate them in one place.
  • Ask Where to Save: By default, this is toggled on, and that's not good for a secret recording. Instead, toggle it off, and you'll get the next to items to customize.
  • Destination Path: This one's important. It serves as both the location of the recordings and their name. For the location: the "Shortcuts" folder in iCloud is chosen for you automatically. You can still add a subdirectory to that folder if you want your recordings stored neatly in a dedicated folder place. To do so, type an existing folder's name after the slash (/). If you don't have an existing folder, go in the Files app and create one first because Shortcuts will not create one for you. You can also choose a path on many third-party cloud storage services. For the file name: whatever appears after the last slash will be the name of the audio recordings. So if you have "/Shortcuts/SecretRecordings" entered, your files will be called SecretRecordings, SecretRecordings-2, SecretRecordings-3, and so on. If you want it to be in your SecretRecordings folder, you need to give the files a name after the slash. So for "/Shortcuts/SecretRecordings/Audio," you'll get Audio, Audio-2, Audio-3, etc. in your SecretRecordings folder. However, you could also leave the file name blank, and Files will default the file names to "Audio Recording YYYY-MM-DD at HH.MM.SS.m4a." That may be easier for you to keep track of since it has the date and time listed.
  • Overwrite If File Exists: By default, this toggle is off, but if you want each secret recording to erase the last one, you can turn it on. With it enabled, you won't have Audio, Audio-2, Audio-3, etc. for file names — you'll just have Audio. Each time you record, that Audio will be written over with the new audio.

When you're finished making your choices, hit "Next," name the shortcut, and tap on "Done" to save the shortcut.

Step 3: Add a Screen Dimmer (Optional)

If you're attempting to record audio on the down-low, you can tap the Side button on your iPhone to make the display turn off as soon as you run one of the shortcuts above. That way, it's even less conspicuous. However, if you don't want to worry about that second step, you can add the "Set Brightness" action to your shortcut to dim the display enough not to be noticeable. In my example, I'm adding it to the shortcut that records to Files.

In the "My Shortcuts" menu, tap the ellipsis (•••) icon on the card to open the editor again, if you're not already in it. Then, tap on the plus (+) icon under the last action or the search bar at the bottom, and type in "brightness." From the results, choose "Set Brightness."

The default brightness in the action that appears is 50%. Tap on that, then use the slider to drop it much lower. You can choose any brightness, but 0% is the best option so that no one can see what's on your screen.

The last thing you need to do is reorder the actions. If you're using Voice Memos, it doesn't really matter which action comes first since the brightness kicks in just as fast as the Voice Memos app appears. But for the Files version, it won't lower the screen brightness until after the recording finishes. To make it start before the recording, drag-and-drop the brightness card to the top of the workflow.

To finish, tap "Done" in the top right to save your changes.

Step 4: Add Your Shortcuts to Back Tap

Now that your shortcut is finished, it's time to add it to Back Tap. To do so, launch the Settings app and go to Accessibility –> Touch –> Back Tap. Next, choose either "Double Tap" or "Triple Tap." Double means you tap the back of your iPhone twice, and triple is three times. A double-tap is easier to trigger accidentally, so you might want to choose three. In either option, find your shortcut's name and select it.

Step 5: Run the Shortcut Using Back Tap

Using Back Tap, now you can run your shortcuts by tapping on the back of your iPhone. If you added the "Set Brightness" action first, your brightness should drop down to whatever percentage you chose.

If you chose Voice Memos, after the screen dims, you'll be redirected to Voice Memos, and you'll have to tap on the red stop button to end the recording. If you chose Files, after the screen dims, a full-screen window will appear for you to tap on to complete the recording. Below you can see the two shortcuts in action, with Voice Memos on the left and Files on the right.

Step 6: View Your Audio Recordings

Finally, it's time to view and listen to your recordings. If you used Voice Memos, open the Voice Memos app, and you should see your recordings at the top of the list if they're the most recent files. You can then tap on a file's ellipsis (•••) button to edit the recording, copy it to your clipboard, share it, save it to Files, etc.

If you used Files, open the Files app and navigate to the destination path you chose when creating the shortcut. If you didn't provide a name for your recordings in the shortcut, the audio recording will have the date and time in the title, and you can tap on it to listen to it. You can also use the Share button to share it with friends and family or copy the file to your clipboard.

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Cover photo, screenshots, and GIFs by Nelson Aguilar/Gadget Hacks

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