According to The New York Times, more than 250 mobile titles from Android‘s Play Store and some games from Apple’s App Store were found to have software that tracks TV watching habits.
Yet these apps, once downloaded onto a smartphone, have the ability to keep tabs on the viewing habits of their users — some of whom may be children — even when the games aren’t being played.
It is yet another example of how companies, using devices that many people feel they can’t do without, are documenting how audiences in a rapidly changing entertainment landscape are viewing television and commercials.
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.
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 the apps are running in the background.