How to Prevent Apps From Listening on Your TV Habits

This innocent looking mobile game you just downloaded may have an ulterior motive. Behind the scenes, hundreds of different apps can use your smartphone’s microphone to figure out what you’re watching on TV, according to a new report from The New York Times . Here’s what you need to know about these listening apps and what you can do to stop them.

What’s really going on here?

In fact, many innocuous-named apps like Pocket Bowling 3D include additional software designed to listen to recognizable sound from your TV, including certain shows and commercials. According to the small print, this software cannot understand or record human speech, and any recordings it makes are stored locally on your device. It then encrypts those posts before checking to see if they match other content and use the information to show you more relevant ads.

Alphonso is one of the companies providing similar services to application developers. According to a Google Play Store search, it has collaborated with at least 250 Android apps and also appears in some iOS apps (there is no way to search for it in the Apple App Store). The company also told the Times that its software runs in approximately 1,000 different applications. This includes games, messaging, and social media, so chances are good that you already have one of these apps on your phone.

How to find one of these apps

The easiest way to catch an eavesdropping app is to check its combo page in the iOS App Store or Google Play. Every application partnering with a service such as Alphonso must disclose this in the main description. This is usually hidden at the end of the text, and you may have to press “more” to see it.

If you’ve already downloaded an app but don’t trust it, you can check its permissions to see what it does. For iOS, go to the main settings menu and then tap on the app you want to see what it has access to. If this includes a microphone, it can spy on you.

The process on Android is very similar, but with a few additional steps. First open “Settings”, then select “Applications” and click on the application you are interested in. Finally, scroll down to Permissions and select it to see what the app has access to on your phone.

You can also check directly in some applications. For example, Pocket Bowling 3D , using Alphonso’s software, offered access to resolution from its own settings menu. However, it couldn’t enable permission without redirecting you to the main Apple Settings app first.

How to disable microphone access

All of these apps must get your permission before they can record in the background. So the easiest way is to simply deny this permission. However, it is possible that you approved the request without realizing it, or your child may do so by playing with your phone. In this case, turning it off is quite simple.

Just go to Settings on your device and check the permissions for the app in question. If the app has access to the microphone when it doesn’t need it (why would you use your microphone in bowling?), Just turn off that permission.

That’s all. Now you can go back to virtual bowling (or whatever else you’ve been doing) without worrying about who or what might be eavesdropping on your activity.


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