The apps use software from Alphonso, a start-up that collects TV-viewing data for advertisers. 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. More than 250 games that use Alphonso software are available in the Google Play store; some are also available in Apple’s app store. Some of the tracking is taking place through gaming apps that do not otherwise involve a smartphone’s microphone, including some apps that are geared toward children. The software can also detect sounds even when a phone is in a pocket if apps are running in the background.The Times provides the above link to the games in the Google Play store with this code, but no such link for affected games in the iOS App Store. Would be nice to see a list of the games on iOS. The good news is you have to approve microphone access for these games, on both platforms, but who knows how many people approve it without thinking about it? I don’t care what these apps disclose in the privacy policies — everyone knows nobody reads privacy policies. This is malware.
Sapna Maheshwari, reporting for The New York Times: