Apps listening in on you through your microphone is a creepy enough proposition, but to have them spying on your TV habits as well is enough to drive anyone up the wall. Sadly, this is the reality we live in today as The New York Times reports that over 250 games on the Google Play Store can do exactly that without you even noticing.
It’s not just Google either; even Apple’s App Store is guilty of harboring some of these applications. Some of the titles include Honey Quest, Pool 3D, Beer Pong: Trickshot, and Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin. A lot of them are geared towards children such as Teeth Fixed and Zap Balloons.
All these apps incorporate software from a startup called Alphonso which collects your TV viewing data for advertisers. The firm’s software uses your smartphone’s microphone to hear audio signals in TV ads and shows to identify what people are watching, further matching that with information about the places you visit and the movies you watch.
Alphonso can then take advantage of this to tailor more precise ads, perhaps even looking into which advertisement prompted you to purchase something. The software isn’t just restricted to when the game is active either, but also when the app is running in the background or if your smartphone is in your pocket.
All this sounds pretty creepy and invasive, but there doesn’t seem to be anything illegal about what’s happening here. Alphonso points out that you have to agree to let your microphone be accessed and all its activities are laid out in app descriptions and privacy policies. That may be true, but many people don’t bother reading the fine print.
Alphonso has a guide to opting out of its software on its website. It would be a good idea to check whether any of your apps are linked to the company and proceed accordingly.