In a recent report, the New York Times has found hundred of smartphone apps use a software to track our TV viewing habits through the smartphone’s microphone. The company behind the tracking software is called Alphonso, and its software is designed to track user’s TV viewing habits, even when the apps are not opened. The software doesn’t listen our conversations, but it recognize sound signals emitted by TVs stored in Alphonso’s database. The data collected can then be sold to the advertisers.
The users need to give explicit permission to let the app access the microphone before the installation process, and they also have to agree to the software policies, meaning careful users will not agree to these terms if they don’t want. The problem is that the tracking software is being used in many apps meant for kids, a practice not approved by Alphonso itself. There are over 200 games available on google play that use Alphonso software, and dozens are available on Apple’s app store as well.
The practice of installing tracking software within smartphone apps is not new, and last year the trade commission issued a warning against developers who had installed Silverpush, another software that collects TV viewing habits through microphones.
The spread of these technologies has lead to some conspiracy theories, one of which involves Facebook. The fear giant companies may spy us and listen our conversation is great, but Facebook has always denied those claims and Facebook’s VP of Ads Rob Goldman said they “have never used your microphone for ads”.