FTC warns developers of apps that silently use smartphone microphone to spy on TV viewing habits

The American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent a warning letter to 12 developers of Android apps that monitor TV viewing habits using the microphone of the mobile phone. Data gathered by the apps is sold to third parties for ad targeting or analytics.


The apps contain a technology called Silverpush which monitors TV viewing habits in the background. The FTC explains,  “Silverpush is a technology that enables mobile applications to listen for unique codes embedded into television audio signals in order to determine what television shows or advertisements are playing on a nearby television. This functionality is designed to run silently in the background, even while the user is not actively using the application. Using this technology, Silverpush could generate a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile phone was turned on.”

Silverpush is embedded in apps but the FTC noticed that none of them disclose to the user that Silverpush is installed.The apps do request permission to use the microphone despite no evident
functionality in the application that would require such access.

The codes in TV audio signals that are monitored by Silverpush are currently not added in TV shows targeted at American consumers. However the FTC warns app developers that add Silverpush to properly ask permission to its users. If they don’t they’ll possibly violate the law.