Smartphone games are not as interesting as it might appear, rather the perils of enjoying them these days are quite risky. As per reports, some smartphone games are listening to what the user’s mic picks up, but this is not to hear what the users would say. Instead, they’re trying to hear what the users are watching.
Now, this is something smartphone apps have been doing for a little while now, i.e. using microphone’s access to depict the shows users watch, the ads they hear, and even what movies they see. But also, as per the recent report in The New York Times, this practice might be more prevalent and more secretive, than consumers might even like.
Also as per this report, more than 250 games now, have been identified in the Google Play Store that includes just one specific type of software for monitoring users’ TV habits. This is a company known as Alphonso, and the apps that include it, i.e. the ones that disclose it, at least, often don’t make what they’re doing particularly clear. Most apps seem to hide their disclosure in their description, beneath a “read more” button.
Here if the users miss the initial warning, they might not be able to perceive what are they getting into, once the app is opened. For example, the game Endless 9*9 by Imobile Game Studios, immediately asked for location and microphone access, without much of an explanation. Later, the app actually disclosed that it was tracking “TV viewership details” in order to “show you TV-related content and ads,” but only if the users would visit the game’s settings. For this, users didn’t have to proactively agree.
In 2016, Federal Trade Commission has warned companies about a dozen of app developers using similar software, called SilverPush. This included that users need to be notified of what type of information their apps would be collecting and why.
Those apps weren’t warning users at all about data collection, whereas the apps identified by the Times are presenting that information, even if it’s hidden. Further, it added that some of these apps continue to monitor a phone’s microphone even after they’re closed. Also, while most apps appeared to be on Android, it reports that some were on Apple’s App Store as well. Both Apple and Google require apps to request microphone access, so users do have to grant permission before an app can start listening. Though it is also not always clear beforehand that the app would still work even without that authority.
To trace back, there have been conspiracy theories for years now about major apps. Facebook, in particular, is a bigger name included tapping smartphone mics in order to listen to what people say and then displaying ads based on their conversations. That isn’t quite what’s happening here, though these apps can hear everything that is being said. They’re only supposed to listen for recognizable audio from TV shows, movies, and advertisements, which they then use for ad targeting. That doesn’t make the behavior any more welcome, but it is at least slightly less creepy.