Hundreds of Apps Can Eavesdrop Through Phone Microphones to Target Ads


According to a report in the New York Times, some smartphone games are spying on sounds picked up by the microphone to hear what one's watching on the TV in the room.

The Times claims, "More than 250 games that use Alphonso software are available in the Google Play store", but is less certain about how numerous titles appear on the App Store. Instead, Alphonso says its software is only created to listen to audio from movies, TV shows, music, and advertisements. "Alphonso" collects this data for advertisers to create more personalized ads and also to track the effectiveness of TV ads, such as those for vehicle dealers.

"The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out anytime", explains Ashish Cordia, CEO of Alphonso.

As the Times points out, the Federal Trade Commission has warned companies about this behaviour in the past.

The disclosure, though, is hidden within the app's settings, which means that users are not asked to agree on the practice in advance.

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Alphonso says it does not record human speech, and that it only works with permission from the end user - but that permission needs only to be granted once. However, at least a dozen games, including "Teeth Fixed" and "Zap Balloons", were discovered using the software.

A simple search for "Alphonso software" and "Alphonso automated" on the Play Store yields numerous apps that integrate the software.

Choice for Device Microphone Data: If you use a mobile application that includes the Service, you can also provide consent for us to access your microphone to collect and use data about the video content you watch on your television or other video viewing device to customize advertising in mobile apps, as well as provide you with television content recommendations. You can opt out, and Alphonso offers a guide on its website for both mobile operating systems.

A new report has claimed there are hundreds of Android apps on the Google Play Store that covertly use your phone's microphone to listen to your preferences - especially the type of TV shows you watch, and when.

The take-away from the NYT investigation is that if you value your privacy you should take note of the permissions an app requests before you install it.