“I’m listening,” the immortal words of TV Character Dr. Frasier Crane as he sat on his radio show and prepared himself to listen to people’s problems. Now, your apps may be listening to see if you’re watching Frasier, and quite possibly, other things.
The FTC warning letters to 12 app developers whom had been using a piece of software called Silverpush. For the privacy minded, Silverpush is a frightening piece of software. Silverpush turns on the phones microphone and listens. Listens without the user knowing. Now the purpose of the software is to listen for “audio beacons” which are placed within television broadcasts. These can’t be detected by the viewer, but the software picks it up. The software can then produce a detailed log of the television content viewed by the user. This of course would be very helpful to the television industry.
The makers of Silverpush stated publicly that their service is not currently in use in the US. But this doesn’t stop app developers from adding it to their apps. According to Morning News USA there were 27 apps in the Google Play Store discovered to be using Silverpush, 11 of which has since been removed. I would love to see who these developers are, and if they have any cross platform apps.
What’s interesting is that the FTC is not taking issue with the fact that these apps can potentially spy on the user, but that the user is not being told the reason for it. App permissions do inform the user that the microphone can be accessed, however the app description does not tell the user the phone may listening to record the users television viewing habits. That’s what the FTC wants the developers to do, add that information to the description.
But really, what’s to say that our viewing habits is all that is being listened to? What’s to say that Silverpush isn’t just the method used by the app developers to turn the microphone on without the user knowing? I am reminded of the Nielsen’s deal with the
devil Facebook in which private Facebook conversations are being scraped by Facebook to provide information about viewing habits to television ratings body the Nielsens.
It seems fairly innocuous right? How personal are our viewing habits? But who is the next customer? Who will pay for the ability to listen to us next? As we watch this very public battle between Apple and the FBI, supposedly about our privacy, our actual privacy is being bought and sold. Oddly enough, these tech titans who are speaking out about the government having access to criminals information, have no issue with advertisers and app developers having full access to our private conversations.
Perhaps the FBI should just offer to buy the information? These outspoken privacy advocates would hand the phone info over quickly for a few advertising dollars.