Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:
At first glance, the gaming apps — with names like “Pool 3D,” “Beer Pong: Trickshot” and “Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin” — seem innocuous. One called “Honey Quest” features Jumbo, an animated bear.
Yet these apps, once downloaded onto a smartphone, have the ability to keep tabs on the viewing habits of their users — some of whom may be children — even when the games aren’t being played.
Yesterday, we posted about a technique ad houses use to glean your identity using your browser’s password manager.
This is a similar data-farming trick, this time using your phone’s microphone to track your TV watching habits.
The apps use software from Alphonso, a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers. Using a smartphone’s microphone, Alphonso’s software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely and to try to analyze things like which ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership.
Most of this occurs in the Android universe, but some iOS games use Alphonso as well. I’m willing to bet that though the games ask permission to use the microphone, not one of those games adds in, “so we can eavesdrop, track your TV viewing habits”.
This is despicable. Apple should do something about this.
UPDATE: Missed this nugget:
Mr. Chordia [Alphonso CEO] said that Alphonso has a deal with the music-listening app Shazam, which has microphone access on many phones. Alphonso is able to provide the snippets it picks up to Shazam, he said, which can use its own content-recognition technology to identify users and then sell that information to Alphonso.
Shazam, which Apple recently agreed to buy, declined to comment about Alphonso.
We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.