Some mobile games were discovered to be secretly listening to what users watch on TV through a smartphone's microphone, with the data then sold to advertisers.
Fortunately for users who are creeped out by the software, there is a way to stop apps from tracking your viewing habits.
Alphonso Software Found In Hundreds Of Games
A New York Times report exposed Alphonso, a start-up that created software for collecting data on the TV viewing habits of users. The information is then purchased by advertisers and used for better targeting of their ads.
Alphonso's software can determine what people are watching by picking up audio signals of TV shows, movies, and advertisements through their smartphone's microphone. Alphonso then often uses Shazam to identify the audio clips.
The software was found in over 250 games in the Google Play Store, with some of them also available on Apple's App Store. Alphonso CEO Ashish Chordia, however, confirmed that there are about 1,000 apps that use the start-up's software. Among the apps known to have Alphonso's software are Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin, Honey Quest, Beer Pong: Trickshot, Pool 3D, and Teeth Fixed.
Chordia said that the company does not support using its software in apps made for children, but the New York Times found a few games geared for kids that contained Alphonso's software.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that apps have secretly tracked the behavior of users. In February, Vizio agreed to a $2.2 million settlement after allegations of using at least 11 million of its smart TVs to spy on customers, while in March 2016, the Federal Trade Commission warned developers who were using the SilverPush software to collect information on TV habits.
How To Stop Apps From Recording Your TV Viewing Habits
According to Alphonso, its software does not record human voices, and its activities are explained in the description of the apps. The software is also unable to access the smartphone's microphone and location unless the user agrees.
"The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out any time," said Chordia, adding that the disclosures are in compliance with the requirements of the Federal Trade Commission.
However, compliance might not be enough.
"It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy," said Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan.
Users who suspect that one of the apps on their mobile device contains Alphonso's software can check the app's permissions. If it includes access to the microphone, it may be spying on your TV viewing habits. Simply deactivate the permission to make mobile games only act as mobile games and not like an eavesdropping app.