January 4, 2018

Hundreds of Android and iOS Apps Are Tracking What You’re Watching On TV Using Your Microphone

That phone game you are playing while watching TV may be secretly tracking you. Yes, a game app on your mobile could be recording your TV viewing habits, and then use that information to target you with ads during your next browsing session.


A recent report from The New York Times highlights a piece of software named ‘Alphonso’ that tracks users’ TV habits. Alphonso is quietly built into many seemingly harmless games and apps across iOS and Android, which listens to what users are watching on their TVs, and it can even gather information while you’re in a movie theater. From there, it can create advertising pushes based on that gathered content.

How does this tracking software work?

The smartphone’s microphone is used to listen for audio signals in TV ads and programs, then sometimes even connect that data with places you visit.

“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.”

The report shares that at this point, over 250 games and apps using Alphonso software were discovered in Google Play Store for Android, and some were also found in Apple’s iOS App Store. More interestingly, Shazam, which Apple is buying, has a deal where it processes data that Alphonso collects for a fee.

Most users aren’t aware of what’s happening and some of the apps are apparently geared toward children.

What’s most alarming is that Alphonso can potentially still record audio when the apps that include it are running in the background or even if a device is in a pocket.

Alphonso-software-in-apps-listens-to-tv (2)

The Alphonso company, however, believes that all of this is legitimate since apps using its software mention this in their privacy disclosures – something that no one actually bothers to read. “The consumer is opting in knowingly and can opt out anytime,” Ashish Chordia, Alphonso’s CEO company’s CEO, said.

Advertisers are keen for their ads to be seen, but it’s more important for them to be seen by the right people, hence this new approach to targeted advertising. So the next time you are lying on the couch and fiddling with your phone while streaming Stranger Things or Game of Thrones, be aware!

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