Many people who download games on their Android devices probably don’t pay that much attention to the permissions they grant an app at install. What you may be missing during that install is a permission that allows the games to listen to what you are watching on TV in your home even when the game isn’t running. The scary part for many people is that the family members being spied on by these games are often kids.
Apps like "Honey Quest" (pictured), "Pool 3D", and hundreds more games are loaded with software from a company called Alphonso, a start up that gathers TV viewing data for advertisers. The company's software uses the microphone on your smartphone or tablet and is able to listen to what you are watching by identifying audio signals in TV ads.
These signals can also at times allow the company to determine where the user is when they see the ad and match that info with where they visit and what movies they see. All that data is used to target ads at users more precisely. The goal is to figure out things like what ads prompted a person to go to a car dealership to look at a car for instance.
Right now, there are over 250 games loaded with Alphonso software in the Google Play store and there are some games with the software on the Apple app store as well. Some of the games on both platforms are said to be able to hear sounds when the phone is in a pocket or when other apps are running.
Alphonso CEO Ashish Chordia said of his company's software, "The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out any time." The executive also notes that the disclosures on the company's website meet FTC guidelines and opt-out instructions are listed on the website. Chordia says that his company didn’t approve the software being installed in games targeted at kids.
There are those that disagree with Chordia and think that more notification needs to be given to users. Justin Brookman, director of watchdog group Consumers Union, says, "When you see ‘permission for microphone access for ads,’ it may not be clear to a user that, 'Oh, this means it’s going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I’m watching ‘Monday Night Football.’ They need to go above and beyond and be careful to make sure consumers know what’s going on."