Back in 2015, a company called SilverPush ended up abandoning a technology that they had created that allowed app developers to use the microphone of a phone to listen for high-frequencies sounds within television advertisements to determine if a user ever watched said television ad.
The idea being that one could then serve that user ads for the product from that show later on in the same type of retargeting that I’m sure we’re all used to seeing from Google and Facebook, etc. (You know, when you go to look for a product and then leave the site only to see that same product follow you around the web. EVERYWHERE.)
The decided to give up this business thanks to the inherent privacy issues among other reasons, but in a recent report some 234 apps all seem to have the SilverPush SDK in their code (meaning they’re most likely using the feature). A sample of just 5 of these apps show that they alone have been downloaded between 2.25 million and 11.1 million times. And some are from companies like McDonald’s Philippines and Krispy Kreme Philippines (what is up with the Philippines??).
Now, while a clever idea for traditional media to try and get in on the tracking power the internet provides, I suppose, it’s something that definitely needs to be listed in the app itself (with the ability to clearly opt-out), which none of the apps mentioned apparently do.
Now, before you go panicking that people are listening to you, you can check any apps that mention they use the microphone permission in Android but you aren’t sure why they should need it. Also thanks to the way permissions are handled in Marshmallow (Android 6.0) and higher, the apps now ask for these permissions as they use them instead of just asking for all of their permissions up front (way better). This allows you to see the app asking for the mic when this happens for the first time and even decide to not allow it, while still being able to use the app.
Regardless of the fact this isn’t a huge threat, in my opinion, it just boggles the mind that this type of tech exists. On one side, we’re all pretty used to being retargeted by ads and, while I might be biased considering I work on the internet, it doesn’t bother me. The question though, is when is the tracking cross the line of spying?
What do you guys think of this and did any of you have any of the apps from the list?