Android games are using your microphone to track your TV viewing habits


A report by the New York Times has found that hundreds of Android and iOS games are using smartphones' mics, not to record conversations, but to monitor users' TV viewing habits for advertising purposes.

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.

The software created by a San Francisco-based firm called Alphonso listens for audio signals in TV ads and shows through the smartphone's microphone.

"The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out anytime", explains Ashish Cordia, CEO of Alphonso. The research has also revealed that the Federal Trade Commission had warned companies about the similar behavior in the past.

Software makers and companies like Facebook are constantly accused of surreptitiously recording audio, including human speech. While you have selected one app and are dragging it into a folder or new screen location, use another finger to tap other apps and add them to a stack behind the first app; you may have to double-tap to get the additional apps to pile on.

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NYT reports that the software is used in games, some of which are geared towards children.

Alphonso's software listens using a device's microphone regardless of whether a game is being played or just idling in the background. For the time being, the application supports the transfer of Contacts, Messages, Call Logs, Calendar, Photos, Video, Audio and Applications (without data). You can opt out, and Alphonso offers a guide on its website for both mobile operating systems.

Have you ever thought before installing a game or an app on your phone that it could potentuially be spyware that could be used not only by governments and hackers but also by advertisers who could literally be listening to you through your phone?

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.

Now it's important to emphasise that you have to actively give permission for an app to use your microphone in the first place, but so often we say "yes" to that sort of thing when we don't really know the consequences.