Hundreds of Android and iOS apps are eavesdropping on users

  • Hundreds of Android and iOS apps are eavesdropping on users

Hundreds of Android and iOS apps are eavesdropping on users

A report from The New York Times (via The Verge) reveals that "more than 250" games now available on Google Play are using a special piece of software to track the TV habits of a user. Although the software does not record human conversations, it can detect sounds even when a phone is stowed away in someone's pocket and the apps are running in the background.

The software created by a San Francisco-based firm called Alphonso listens for audio signals in TV ads and shows through the smartphone's microphone.

The data collected is then sold to advertisers for ad targeting and analysis.

The company, however, believes that all of this is legitimate since apps using its software mention this in their privacy disclosures - something that no one actually bothers to read.

Chordia has defended the practice, arguing that it complies with FTC guidelines and that "the consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out any time". The research has also revealed that the Federal Trade Commission had warned companies about the similar behavior in the past.

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".

NYT reports that the software is used in games, some of which are geared towards children. Some of those apps are aimed at children, and they can be downloaded and used on both Android and iOS devices.

Meanwhile, NYT also compiled a list of five popular games on Play Store that use the software to spy on you. You can't transfer text messages, call logs, photos (although you can access them in the cloud with Google Photos), and more. To withdraw that consent, you can use the platform settings of your device as shown in our mobile opt out guide, available here.

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.

While you may now be thinking, "This was never made clear when I installed the app", according to Alphonso it was.