Games played on smartphones usually seem innocent, but they sometimes have less than stellar intentions. Recently, it’s been revealed that quite a few games on Android are secretly using your microphone to listen to your surroundings for more personalized ads within the game.

The best gifts for Android users

A report from The New York Times (via The Verge) reveals that “more than 250” games currently available on Google Play are using a special piece of software to track the TV habits of a user. “Alphonso” collects this data for advertisers to create more personalized ads and also to track the effectiveness of TV ads, such as those for car dealers.

This software is used in these games do, in some cases, notify users about what’s going on, but in many cases that information is completely glossed over and just hidden in the app’s privacy policy. In those cases, the app still needs to request access to the microphone (on 6.0+), but doesn’t have to say what that is for.

What’s a bit creepier here is the fact that Alphonso’s software can still listen in when the app isn’t being used, meaning this information could be recorded essentially all of the time.

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 when a phone is in a pocket if the apps are running in the background.

Alphonso refuses to disclose a list of what apps and games, on Android or iOS, are using its software for this purpose, but apparently, the total is roughly 1,000.

One slightly positive note here, though, is that this software doesn’t listen to “human voices.” Instead, Alphonso says its software is only designed to listen to audio from movies, TV shows, music, and advertisements. That’s not nearly as creepy as if it were listening to what you were actively saying and delivering ads based on that, but it’s still quite disconcerting.


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