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FTC warns 12 Android developers for baking software listening for TV ads into apps

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued warnings to 12 Android developers for including software that listens for signals in certain television commercials in their apps without letting users know about it. The listening software could monitor TV viewing habits when the app in question is not in use and produce detailed logs of TV content viewed by a user.

“These apps were capable of listening in the background and collecting information about consumers without notifying them,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should tell people what information is collected, how it is collected, and who it’s shared with.”

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Silverpush, the software in question, uses “audio beacon” technology to recognize inaudible audio watermarks in TV ads. While the company behind the software, which goes by the same name, said Silverpush isn’t used in the U.S., it encourages app developers to let users know that their Silverpush-enabled apps could allow third parties to monitor their TV viewing habits.

Part of the blame, of course, falls on users who download these apps from the Google Play Store and actively give them permission to use their Android device’s microphone.

While the FTC sent letters to 12 app developers, chances are good that that doesn’t cover all developers baking Silverpush into their apps. In November, Addons Detector shared an analysis that found 27 unique apps in the Google Play Store with the Silverpush software development kit (SDK). Of that number, 11 were no longer found on the Play Store, leaving 16 live apps with Silverpush.