There are more than 250 Android gaming apps on Google Play Store that are using your smartphone’s microphone to record what you watch on TV – This means instead of your conversation these apps are focused on listening what you are watching on TV.
According to a report published by The New York Times, these gaming apps are using a software developed by a California based company called Alphonso that collects TV-viewing data including shows, ads, and movies for advertising firms.
The software allows apps to use the microphone on a device to identify audio signals from TV advertisement, collect and share the data with companies for targeted advertising. However what may worry some is the fact that once the apps are running in the background the software could detect audio even when the phone is in a pocket.
According to Alphonso’s CEO Ashish Chordia, the company also worked with Shazam (now owned by Apple) to collect music music-listening data as well as with movie studios to collect movie-viewing habits. At the same time, the company claims it does not record human speech and only gains access to devices’ microphones and locations if the user allows it.
A look at Alphonso LinkedIn page the company claims that there are “hundreds of Fortune 500 brands and all major holding companies in the U.S. work with Alphonso to amplify their TV spend with digital and to reach targeted TV demographics across all screens.”
“With automatic content recognition (ACR) technology embedded in tens of millions of smart TVs, TV chipsets, mobile apps, gaming consoles, streaming devices and OTT services, Alphonso understands what programming and advertising people are watching on TV,” explains Alphonso’s LinkedIn page.
Although the complete list of apps is not available, a search on Play Store with “Alphonso automated” keywords shows some of the apps that are using the software include Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin (100,000 – 500,000 installs), Casino Coin Rush (50,000 – 100,000 installs) and Highway Racing (100,000 – 500,000 installs).
This should not come as a surprise, as last year Google itself was caught collecting the location data of Android users even if location service was off. In March 2016, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to smartphones software developers about the use of Silverpush, an audio-recording service that may be invading the user’s privacy.
There are tons of apps on Play Store that ask for unnecessary permission such as a number of flash apps ask for location, media and network access that has nothing to do with the functioning of a flash app. Therefore, be vigilant, avoid downloading unnecessary apps and keep an eye on which permission the app is asking for.