FTC warns app developers against using audio monitoring software

A dozen developers appear to have packaged TV tracking software into their products, the agency says

 The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has sent warning letters to 12 smartphone app developers for allegedly compromising users' privacy by packaging audio monitoring software into their products.

The software, from an Indian company called SilverPush, allows apps to use the smartphone's microphone to listen to nearby television audio in an effort to deliver more targeted advertisements. SilverPush allows the apps to surreptitiously monitor the television viewing habits of people who downloaded apps with the software included, the FTC said Thursday.

"This functionality is designed to run silently in the background, even while the user is not actively using the application," the agency said in its letter to the app developers. "Using this technology, SilverPush could generate a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile phone was turned on."

If the app developers state or imply that their apps do not collect or transmit television viewing data when they actually do, that may be a violation of the section of the FTC Act barring deceptive and unfair business practices, the agency said.

The 12 developers appear to have included SilverPush code in apps available in the Google Play store, the FTC said.

SilverPush has said its service isn't now operating in the U.S., but it encourages app developers that package its software to notify customers about its ability to monitor TV habits should the company move into the U.S. market, the FTC said. SilverPush representatives weren't immediately available for comment on the FTC's letter.

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

Some app developers ask for permission to use a smartphone's microphone, even tough the apps do not appear to have a need for that functionality, the FTC said. The apps apparently packaging SilverPush don't provide users' notice that they could monitor TV viewing habits, even if the app is not in use, the agency said.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital rights and privacy group, raised concerns about SilverPush during an October FTC workshop on cross-device tracking.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?