Hundreds of Apps Can Eavesdrop Through Phone Microphones to Target Ads


As The New York Times reports, right now on the Google Play Store there are over 250 games that use the microphone on your smartphone to listen to what you watch. It even detects sounds while the phone is inside the pocket. "Alphonso" collects this data for advertisers to create more personalized ads and also to track the effectiveness of TV ads, such as those for vehicle dealers.

While an extremely small number of users actually goes through these disclosures, the company does openly admit that the apps using its software collect data including "hashed audio signatures about the viewing histories for television programs and advertisements". He also noted that the company's disclosures comply with Federal Trade Commission guidelines and offer instructions for users to opt-out of the software on its website.

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. Alphonso claims its use of the devices is clearly stated in its privacy policy, but given how little users pay attention to those - and the fact that many of these games are geared toward children - it's likely many users are being tracked without knowing it. However, at least a dozen games, including "Teeth Fixed" and "Zap Balloons", were discovered using the software.

Results yielded from a search on the Play Store for alphonso automated applications reveal a list of games that include the software.

Currently, you can transfer: Contacts, Messages, Call Logs, Photos, Videos, Audio and applications (without data).

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?

Apps and companies that are collecting such data should be required to make it clear "because it's so inherently unexpected and surprising", Justin Brookman of the Consumers Union said about Alphonso and the app makers being so unapologetic. To withdraw that consent, you can use the platform settings of your device as shown in our mobile opt out guide, available here. The microphone is being accessed to tell what TV shows one watches and also what movies one is viewing.