FTC reads the riot act to Android developers building apps that can spy on users' television habits

FTC reads the riot act to Android developers building apps that can spy on users' television habits
The U.S. FTC is warning Android developers against using software called "Silverpush" when building new apps for the platform. With "Silverpush," the microphone on an Android device can hear a television playing in the background allowing viewing information to be passed along to third-party advertisers.

Letters were sent via email from the FTC to the developers of a dozen apps available from the Google Play Store that are believed to contain Silverpush. You can read a copy of that letter by clicking on the sourcelink. The letter says that Silverpush could run silently in the background and "could generate a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile phone was turned on."

The use of Silverpush in Android apps could be illegal, but the software is reportedly not in use in the U.S. Even so, the letter from the FTC suggests that developers of those dozen apps tell consumers that their apps will start to collect television viewing information once Silverpush is used in the states. Developers of apps that use Silverpush could be considered responsible if users aren't informed about the collection of data and who is receiving it.

source: FTCLetter, FTC via SlashGear



1. Unordinary unregistered

Does Androids Google Pay allow this stuff to stick around after slipping thru?

2. Colonel-Moris

Posts: 34; Member since: Jan 22, 2014

"With "Silverpush," the microphone on an Android device can hear a television playing in the background allowing viewing information to be passed along to third-party advertisers." How is it going to tell the difference between Tele audio and living room conversation?

3. Adreno

Posts: 755; Member since: Mar 12, 2016

@Colonel-Moris Did you even fully read the article? "Unique Audio Beacon technology that enables mobile applications to listen for unique CODES embeded into television audio signals" So, it's going to tell the different between Television audio and living room conversation. :D

4. Colonel-Moris

Posts: 34; Member since: Jan 22, 2014

That quote begs a lot of explanation. "codes embedded into audio signals" what are these codes and are they human audible? How does this work? Are the codes broadcast continuously or just at certain intervals, or at the start of the programs? I am aware of the vague information in this article and that's the point of my asking for more clear info. Just declaring that 'something does something' using the assigned technical jargon for the process is not exactly an explanation of HOW it does that thing.

6. jwainwright

Posts: 2; Member since: Mar 12, 2016

The codes are not audible. They are embedded in the transmission stream. Read about SMPTE for example. What is disturbing to me about this, is that cybercriminals will exploit it, and won't care that the FTC is opposed to it. They will use it to record in-room conversations, and if possible then use it to blackmail victims. The technology should be disabled by default, in my opinion, or at least be easily disabled by the end user, and end users should be told about it. Similarly, cybercriminals (even novice hackers) can easily enable microphone and camera in a person's computer, without it being obvious that they are active.

5. Trakker

Posts: 283; Member since: Feb 11, 2016

I remember an ad on TV last week for one of these apps saying you earn money just for watching TV ads, and just thought WTF I'm not gonna have some app listening in possibly 24 hours a day just for a few pennies from the ads.

7. material

Posts: 80; Member since: Jan 08, 2015

You allow siri and Google now to listen for hot words (hey siri, okay Google). It is just listening locally. No data is transferred. Here too, only the code is transferred. It is instructed to "call the ad company, which ad they are watching"

8. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

Actually this is not true. Sentences said to the Google now engine are uploaded to the Google server and can even be listened back to on a different device if you log on to your Google account. https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/6030020?hl=en

10. schultzter

Posts: 16; Member since: Oct 20, 2015

Yeah, but not until you say "ok Google" so you have to consciously activate it. With Silverpush its always listening and sending back to the server all the audio codes it hears but you can't!!! Even though Android permissions have gotten better, I still don't think they're granular enough. Furthermore, auditing would nice too - I'd like to see which apps are using the microphone, camera, etc.

9. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

More reasons why I can't use Android without something like Privacy Guard which came with my OnePlus One...so many spyware nodes around every corner.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.