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Android games found tracking users' TV viewing habits

Honey Quest uses technology to target ads based on the user's viewing habits. (Source: NY Times)
Honey Quest uses technology to target ads based on the user's viewing habits. (Source: NY Times)
Many Android games have been found to track the user's TV viewing habits for displaying ads. The games use software from Alphonso that collects data from the phone's microphone, identifies the audio stream, and displays targeted advertising.

In what would likely set off alarm bells ringing for the privacy conscious, it has been found that seemingly harmless games such as Pool 3D, Beer Pong: Trickshot, Honey Quest, and close to about 250 apps in the Google Play Store track the user's TV viewing habits for targeted advertising. The apps employ a software from Alphonso, a startup company that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers.

When users give these apps permission to access the microphone, Alphonso kicks in and starts identifying audio signals from TV content and uses this information to build a profile of the user's viewing habits, deliver targeted ads, and analyze data for advertisers. A major chunk of Alphonso-enabled apps are in the Google Play Store with a few of them also available in Apple's App Store. Alphonso can also collect data in the background as long as the app is not completely quit.

While this may seem to be a blatant violation of privacy, Alphonso CEO, Ashish Chordia, thinks otherwise. He says that the data collection is happening only after the user's explicit consent and that it can be opted out anytime. He said that the app does not record human speech and all this is explained in the corresponding app description and privacy policies. Chordia says that the practices comply with the Federal Trade Commission guidelines and privacy conscious users can opt out of the data collection process by following these instructions.

Alphonso and similar companies might have their legalities in place but they exploit users' negligence of not reading through app permissions and privacy policies before installation. Most users simply grant permissions out of habit and their personal information soon becomes fodder for advertisers. Targeted ads are not entirely bad and can prove to be very useful sometimes but it will surely be appreciated if users are alerted in ways that are more conspicuous. On the other hand, with the increasing proliferation of technology into our living rooms and personal spaces, users would do themselves a service by taking a few minutes to read through the app permissions and privacy policies before hitting the install button.


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Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, 2018-01- 1 (Update: 2018-01- 1)