PSA: Some Apps Monitor Your TV Habits For Advertising

Advertisement
Advertisement

Some apps found in the Google Play Store, and of course outside of it, are using a technology that tracks your TV viewing habits, among other metrics, to show you more precisely targeted mobile advertisements. These apps use technology from a firm called Alphonso, which works both when the app is active and when it's on in the background. The technology is present in 221 games in the Play Store as of this writing, and many of those have no game-related reason to ask for microphone access permissions. Most of these apps are seemingly innocuous short-form mobile games, some of which are even targeted to children. Most, if not all of these games and apps can be found by searching for "alphonso automated" in the Play Store. Previous reports pegged the number as being upwards of 250, which could mean that some of these apps have begun removing the technology since it was initially reported on.

To be fair, the notification that asks for microphone permissions very clearly states what Alphonso-enhanced apps are planning to do with those permissions. While there may be unwitting smartphone users like children or the elderly who may not be fully aware of what they're agreeing to, it technically cannot be said that consumers aren't opting into having their TV habits tracked via the Alphonso Automated software. For what it's worth, one of the apps in question, Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin, was reportedly played without incident despite denying the permissions in question. While that's not a guarantee that all of the apps equipped with Alphonoso Automated will allow users to play without letting them listen in, the experiment does indicate that such a block is not an inherent part of the software suite.

This is far from the first time that potentially unwanted software has made its way into the Play Store by piggybacking on fairly innocent-seeming apps, but this is certainly one of the more tame incidences. With location data and microphone permissions, an app could ascertain a lot more about a user than what they're watching on TV and where they're shopping as a result of watching those ads, though this instance seems to be strictly opt-in, and quite innocuous compared to the malware that usually sneaks onto the Play Store.

Advertisement