The start-up Alphonso collects viewing data for advertisers through mobile gaming apps that can track users on the devices’ microphones, even when the apps aren’t in use.
We’ve all had a situation where you open up Facebook or Instagram and BANG there’s an ad for something you were just having a conversation about.
You’ve never seen an ad for it banana protectors before, you’ve never browsed for a banana protector before, you’ve never even heard of one before a co-worker brought one in and you had a 15 minute conversation about why they had a plastic banana shaped container and how ludicrous they are (come at me bro).
But there it is, front and centre just moments later an ad for one. How did it get there?
Well the urban-legend has always been our phones, or rather Facebook and alike, are listening to our conversations and then serving ads related to it. A story vehemently denied by all parties involved.
That may very well be true but through a round-about circle of advertising platforms and data pushing they could be the happy recipients of data collected on ad statistic platforms such as Alphonso.
Over 250 games make use of the Alphonso platform as a means of revenue in free-to-play titles. Many, if not all, when requesting access to your phones microphone have no reason to do so for gameplay.
Alphonso doesn’t listen to your conversations though. Instead it’s listening to your TV. It wants to know what ads you’re watching and let its clients know you’ve seen it. With that said, it’s hardly a giant leap to consider it (or others) might be listening for more.
The kicker though is that Alphonso and the games containing it, are doing nothing wrong. They’ve legally declared their intentions. They’ve presented those to the end-user whom in turn has agreed to them. And they’ve asked for their explicit permission to make use of your microphone to capture that data.
Whilst anyone can opt-out of the service once indoctrinated, the likelihood is they either have no idea what they’ve skipped through and agreed to or unaware how to do so. Despite Alphonso offering instructions on their website.
So whilst it may not be Alphonso and their legitimate capturing of televised advertising statistics powering your Instagram banana protector ad, it could very well be a less than forthcoming competitor with more nefarious intent.