Smartphone games spy on what you watch

The smartphone games that spy on your TV habits

Software that collects TV viewing data for advertisers is piggybacking smartphone games such as Pool 3D, Beer Pong and Real Bowling Strike 10 Pin to keep tabs on your viewing habits.

The software, called Alphonso, uses the smartphone’s microphone to guess what you are watching by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows.

More than 250 games use the Alphonso software and are widely available in Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

And the company recently secured a deal with the music app Shazam.

The software is even able to match the information gleaned with your viewing habits at, say a friend’s house or the film you watch at the cinema.

What’s more the viewing data is coupled with IP addresses.

With this the software is able to match characteristics such as age, gender, income and can tie-in to data from credit firms such as Experian.

We tell you we’re spying

In its defence Alphonso said its software does not record human speech and its functions are clearly explained in its app description and privacy policies.

Alphonso’s Chief Executive Ashish Chordia insisted his software complies with all industry standards and provides opt-out instructions on its website.

Alphonso declined to say how many people it collects data on and would not confirm the identity of the games, as well as messaging and social apps containing their software, claiming it could benefit rival firms.

We have to be really careful as we have more devices capturing more information in living rooms and bedrooms and on the street and in other people’s houses that the public is not blindsided and surprised by things.

It’s not what’s legal. It’s what’s not creepy.

- Dave Morgan: Chief Executive, Simulmedia Inc

The proliferation of internet connected TV and tools that can identify video content through pixels and audio snippets has led to some questionable practices.

And while totally legal, and a company that has not been accused of any specific wrongdoing, Alphonso is another example of how companies are able to exploit our love of devices such as smartphones to document how people in a rapidly changing entertainment landscape are viewing TV shows and adverts.

As consumers, they onus is on us to be fully aware of what our devices are doing when we’re not watching.


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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