Security & Fraud

FTC Warns App Developers About Software Privacy Risk

The Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to 12 app developers that have installed software that can monitor the microphones that are part of devices. The software directs the microphone to listen to audio signals that are part of television ads.

This software is known as SilverPush, and it monitors consumer television viewing habits by using “audio beacons” from TVs. Consumers cannot actually hear these beacons, as the FTC noted in a release. But the software would then produce what the FTC said would amount to a “detailed log” of television viewing habits that could lead to targeted advertising.

The letters sent to the developers noted that SilverPush has, in fact, stated that its service is not in use in the United States, but the letters do recommend that users should be notified through the app that television viewing could indeed be monitored through the software.

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

The FTC has stated that app developers should ask users for permission in order to use device microphones. If language is used with the interface, or by the developers themselves, that implies that the software is not being used when, in fact, it is, then that would constitute a violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. There are guidelines for best practices in place via a 2013 staff report for privacy disclosures in mobile apps.

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