YET ANOTHER privacy violation has been found alive and well in the Google Play Store.
The New York Times reports that "hundreds" of apps are embedding a revenue stream-creating package called Alphonso that uses your smartphone microphone to track your TV viewing habits.
Games like 'Pool 3D', 'Beer Pong: Trickshot', 'Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin' and 'Honey Quest' seem like innocent games but, in fact, have a secret agenda.
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.
In this case, the NYT explains: "Using a smartphone's microphone, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see."
It's a similar principle to Shazam, but without explicit permission. Plus it's going to be kicking your battery life into submission we imagine.
However, Alphonso does have a deal with Shazam that means that when you Shazam something, the data is sent to Alphonso for analysis.
Alphonso says it does not record human speech, and that it only works with permission from the end user - but that permission needs only to be granted once.
"The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out anytime," explains Ashish Cordia, CEO of Alphonso. The company declined to say just how many apps (some of which are on the Apple Store too) are being used, or which ones.
It also added that it didn't approve of the kit being used in apps made for children, but this hasn't stopped developers incorporating it anyway.
Apps like this often use embedded sounds hidden out of range in the TV signal which trigger the apps to record. This data can then be used by advertisers to set rates.
It's all rather grim and creepy if we're honest. But that's just the way the world works now, seemingly. Pass the tinfoil.
Google has promised to improve warnings in the event that apps are harvesting data, whether the app is from inside or outside the Play Store. µ
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