Some mobile games using phone mic to track your TV habits: NYT

January 04, 2018 11:27
Several smartphone games are embedded with software capable of tracking the TV viewing habits of the users, according to a report. Photo: Reuters

Hundreds of games available in Google Play and Apple's App Store are embedded with software capable of tracking the TV viewing habits of their users – even when the games aren’t being played, according to The New York Times.

In a report last week, the paper said many gaming apps use software from Alphonso, a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers.

The software has the ability to keep tabs on what users watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows via the smartphone's microphone, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see, the report said.

The information can then be used to deliver targeted ads and to try to analyze things like which ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership.

It can also detect sounds even when a phone is in a pocket if the apps are running in the background, according to NYT.

More than 250 games and social apps that use Alphonso software are available in the Google Play store; some are also available in Apple's App Store. The list includes games titles like 'Pool 3D', 'Beer Pong: Trickshot', 'Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin', and 'Honey Quest'.

Ashish Chordia, Alphonso’s chief executive, insisted that the software is clearly explained in app descriptions and privacy policies.

"The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out anytime," Chordia told NYT, adding that users have to grant permission before the company gain access to users’ microphones and locations.

But several Alphonso-enabled apps are geared toward children, and many of their disclosures aren’t fully transparent, the report noted.

Chordia declined to disclose the number of people it is collecting data from, and also the names of the roughly 1000 games and the messaging and social apps with the Alphonso software.

As Chordia told NYT, his company has also worked with movie studios to figure out theatre-viewing habits, by detecting the film snippets provided by the studios ahead of time.

Alphonso also has a deal with the music listening app Shazam, which is being acquired by Apple. Alphonso is able to provide the snippets it picks up to Shazam, which use its content-recognition technology to identify users and then sell that information to Alphonso, according to NYT.

Alphonso's apps and its relationship with Shazam "show that there can be a connection between what our phones may hear and the ads that appear on a website or social media feed in the next few hours," the paper said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 4

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

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Hong Kong Economic Journal