For years, people have accused companies of using their smartphones’ microphones to record conversations. We talked about the unlikelihood of corporate eavesdropping back in June, but paranoid delusions aside, some bad actors are actually listening in. And somewhat unsurprisingly, they’re middlemen for marketers.
Alphonso, a startup that sells media-viewing data, supplies a plugin that listens for audio signals in shows and movies. Roughly 250 mobile games and social applications in the Google Play Store use it to deliver targeted ads, according to The New York Times, a few of which include innocuous-sounding titles like “Pool 3D”, “Beer Pong: Trickshot”, “Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin”, and “Honey Quest”.
Even scarier, the software’s accurate enough to detect audio when your phone’s in a pocket or bookbag. Alphonso’s CEO, Ashish Chordia, told The New York Times that it worked with movie studios to analyze movie-viewing habits and with Shazam to collect music-listening data.
The company insists that it doesn’t record human speech, and that it discloses its software’s tracking capabilities in app descriptions and terms of service (ToS) agreements. It also says that users have to grant permission before Alphonso’s service can gain access to their devices’ microphones and locations.
But a number of Alphonso-enabled applications are geared toward children, according to the Times report, and many of their disclosures aren’t fully transparent.
Alphonso’s plugin far from the first of its kind. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission targeted developers who’d used Silverfish, an audio-recording service akin to Alphonso’s solution, in their applications.
With $70 billion of annual digital marketing money at stake, it doesn’t seem likely that Alphonso, Silverfish, and other like services will head the way of the dodo anytime soon. But here’s hoping that app developers are a little more forthcoming in the future about which ad-tracking services they’re using.
Source: The New York Times