A Variety of iOS Games May be Listening to What You Watch on TV

Apps are ubiquitous, filling in important areas of our daily needs, and knowing what they have access to is important.

The New York Times has an in-depth look at a piece of software called Alphonso, which, up to this point, is present in upwards of 1,000 apps across iOS and Android. The report details that with Alphonso baked into an app, that application can listen to whatever it is you’re watching on your TV, and, from there, create advertising pushes based on that gathered content.

It isn’t just as simple as gathering information from what you’re listening to on TV, either. The app doesn’t have to be running — it can be in the background, and it can even gather information while you’re in a movie theater. At this point, there have been over 250 games and apps discovered in the Play Store for Android, and there are a variety of games that are available in the iOS App Store that have Alphonso baked in, too.

“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.”

You can do a quick search in the iOS App Store with the term “Alphonso” in the query and you can find some results.

According to the CEO of the company that offers Alphonso, Ashish Chordia, the software is available in over 1,000 games and apps across the platforms. However, Chordia wouldn’t go into any detail. Chordia also said that users have to opt-in by giving the app where Alphonso is present permission, but the permissions aren’t always detailed, and many folks might be giving an app permission to the microphone unaware of what the app actually needs it for.

If that’s not enough, the company offering Alphonso actually has a deal in place with the music discovery app/service Shazam. Shazam is being acquired by Apple right now, so it will be interesting to see what happens next, especially after this revelation in the report.

“Mr. Chordia 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.”

Our Take

Apps are important, but the permissions that grant access, and features, are just as important. It’s high time that the permissions we grant were given more detail (both on iOS and Android). Yes, it has gotten better over the years, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, and the fact that Chordia isn’t wrong about the fact that users do give permission to the app where Alphonso is present, I can’t help but imagine that a lot of people would say no if they knew exactly why the app needed microphone permission.

[via The New York Times]

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