FTC challenges Android developers on their use of SilverPush microphone spyware

Posted:
in iPhone
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued warning letters to a dozen Google Play developers over their use of SilverPush software, which turns Android devices into advertising spy beacons to listen for and track the television programming users are exposed to.




According to a report by Colin Lecher for The Verge, the FTC issued its warnings after determining that twelve Android developers were incorporating the SilverPush software in their apps.

SilverPush is designed to activate the microphone on end users' mobile devices to listen for ambient programming information in order to estimate the audience size for advertising purposes, and to tie together typical cookie behavior tracking (such as the websites an individual visited) with the types of television programming they watch.

The FTC warned that the use of this software could be illegal if users are not being notified about what information the apps are collecting, noting that apps routinely request access to a user's microphone without explaining why and without any clear need for doing this.

Privacy advocates have pushed the FTC to take action to ensure that such "cross device" tracking schemes are transparent to users and used ethically. In a statement, FTC's director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection asked companies to "tell people what information is collected, how it is collected, and who it's shared with."

Apple has pursued consumer privacy as a key differentiating feature from Android starting in 2011, when it began deprecating developer access to the UUID of iPhones. Apple introduced a limited, "non permanent, non-personal device identifier" in iOS 6, along with an option for users to Limit Ad Tracking.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,278member
    This came up last November, with the FTC finally acknowledging it. Drawbridge along with a name you probably know, Flurry, also are working on similar tracking mechanisms. 

    https://public.addonsdetector.com/silverpush-android-apps/

    EDIT: Ars last fall had a really nicely detailed article about some of these new tracking schemes. Really a concerning read, and no it's not just Android. 
    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/11/beware-of-ads-that-use-inaudible-sound-to-link-your-phone-tv-tablet-and-pc/

    There's also another article meant for marketers explaining cross-tracking and who offers it. Surprisingly a lot of advertising companies are in on it, including big names like Yahoo and Facebook. But guess who apparently isn't? The one everyone seems to worry the most about. They are lumped in with Apple as companies unlikely to do so. 
    http://www.campaignlive.com/article/why-cross-device-tracking-latest-obsession-marketers/1361742
    edited March 2016 command_fjony0
  • Reply 2 of 26
    That's legal???

    tuat should be considered a home invasion. 

    Android sucks. 

    Mono wonder the FBI isn't hating on them. 
    Myou font even have to hack to spy on peeps. Sheesh. 
    calilolliversockrolidmagman1979jbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 26
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,278member
    That's legal???

    tuat should be considered a home invasion. 

    Android sucks. 

    Mono wonder the FBI isn't hating on them. 
    Myou font even have to hack to spy on peeps. Sheesh. 
    "...some SilverPush advertisers (including Procter & Gamble and messaging app Line) are already using these capabilities, as are “a few” mobile publishers (mostly game developers). It works on both iOS and Android and could potentially be used in TV ads, too."
  • Reply 4 of 26
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Using Android is a sickness.
    calilolliversockrolidmagman1979jbdragon
  • Reply 5 of 26
    sirlance99sirlance99 Posts: 1,142member
    foggyhill said:
    Using Android is a sickness.
    Did you not read that it's on iOS as well?
    singularity
  • Reply 6 of 26
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,976member
    foggyhill said:
    Using Android is a sickness.
    Did you not read that it's on iOS as well?
    No it's not. Read again!
    sockrolidtmaymagman1979mwhitejbdragonbestkeptsecret
  • Reply 7 of 26
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,788member
    ... SilverPush software, which turns Android devices into advertising spy beacons ...
    Advertising is why Android exists.
    97% of Google's revenue comes from ads.
    baconstangmagman1979jbdragon
  • Reply 8 of 26
    tmaytmay Posts: 3,553member
    foggyhill said:
    Using Android is a sickness.
    Did you not read that it's on iOS as well?
    The Indian guy was stating this in a July, 2014 presser, but there isn't any indication that it made it into any apps, and if it had, there would have been a request to use the microphone for that app. Any Android App not specifically written for the latest release, Android 6, will not notify you of any use of the microphone, it will use the defaults in place, which are not as granular as apps written specifically for Android 6, which, like iOS, will ask you to allow the microphone.

    Scumbags.
    jbdragon
  • Reply 9 of 26
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    foggyhill said:
    Using Android is a sickness.
    Did you not read that it's on iOS as well?
    Prove it, especially prove that it's used the same way (not possible), or stop talking.... See how that goes hey.
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 10 of 26
    One thing I like about iOS is I simply go to privacy-microphone, and can easily see who wants access and can then exercise my power to choose. Thanks Apple ! 
    jbdragoniosenthusiast
  • Reply 11 of 26
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,837member
    If you have the Amazon Echo, it listens to everything 24/7.
    cornchip
  • Reply 12 of 26
    Apple has control over both the hardware and software. Google has partial control of the software. The Chinese and Amazon have forked Android. And there's nothing to stop the handset manufacturers from including software that can bypass Android's control to access the microphone directly. In such a case a hardware manufacturer might be able to monetize such a service apart from Google. 

    Any handset manufacturer can do this and it does not necessarily have to run Android. This could easily be done to a basic handset, but it would need a CPU of some sophistication to turn on the microphone when desired. It is not impossible, but would be difficult to do on a basic handset. Android makes it far easier. For example, someone accesses a remote control application to change the television channel. The application could then turn on the handset's microphone and send the audio file over the web to anyone who might be interested. The programs being watched and the discussion would be of interest to a great many people including producers, network executives, advertisers, etc. A basic handset could do this, but would be limited. In many cases, it might need to continuously record and the file then searched for pertinent keywords. 

    I am absolutely certain that this will be coming and that it will be feature exclusive to Android handsets. Apple has control of the entire widget and won't allow such practices. Google cannot stop it. They are at the mercy of the hardware OEMs. 

    Android has some deeply flawed fundamental issues. The handset manufacturers now have the upper hand, especially Samsung who has a full working knowledge of the OS issues and can build the software functionality into their handsets allowing the app producers to access the hardware apart from Android and charge a fee in doing so. Such an arrangement could easily render Google's advertising model obsolete as the data obtained from the handset's camera and microphone directly would be far more valuable. 

    Perhaps the FBI would not need to break into an iPhone. They can simply access the conversation itself directly. 
    jony0
  • Reply 13 of 26
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,556member
    gatorguy said:
    This came up last November, with the FTC finally acknowledging it. Drawbridge along with a name you probably know, Flurry, also are working on similar tracking mechanisms. 

    https://public.addonsdetector.com/silverpush-android-apps/

    EDIT: Ars last fall had a really nicely detailed article about some of these new tracking schemes. Really a concerning read, and no it's not just Android. 
    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/11/beware-of-ads-that-use-inaudible-sound-to-link-your-phone-tv-tablet-and-pc/

    There's also another article meant for marketers explaining cross-tracking and who offers it. Surprisingly a lot of advertising companies are in on it, including big names like Yahoo and Facebook. But guess who apparently isn't? The one everyone seems to worry the most about. They are lumped in with Apple as companies unlikely to do so. 
    http://www.campaignlive.com/article/why-cross-device-tracking-latest-obsession-marketers/1361742
    I am always impressed with the speed at which you'll leap into a thread to defend Google… even if Google hasn't been mentioned.
    tmaytofinojbdragoncornchipboopthesnoot
  • Reply 14 of 26
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 289member
    gatorguy said:
    This came up last November, with the FTC finally acknowledging it.
    Really useful post, thank you.
  • Reply 15 of 26
    If Android phones are listening to what shows they watch then I can be spied on just by being in range of an Android user.   That's some BS right there!
  • Reply 16 of 26
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 398member
    If Android phones are listening to what shows they watch then I can be spied on just by being in range of an Android user.   That's some BS right there!
    You best not go out in public then since we all have the legal right to take your picture and deoendjng on the state video and audio record you without consent.
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 17 of 26
    koopkoop Posts: 337member
    Apple has control over both the hardware and software. Google has partial control of the software. The Chinese and Amazon have forked Android. And there's nothing to stop the handset manufacturers from including software that can bypass Android's control to access the microphone directly. In such a case a hardware manufacturer might be able to monetize such a service apart from Google. 

    Any handset manufacturer can do this and it does not necessarily have to run Android. This could easily be done to a basic handset, but it would need a CPU of some sophistication to turn on the microphone when desired. It is not impossible, but would be difficult to do on a basic handset. Android makes it far easier. For example, someone accesses a remote control application to change the television channel. The application could then turn on the handset's microphone and send the audio file over the web to anyone who might be interested. The programs being watched and the discussion would be of interest to a great many people including producers, network executives, advertisers, etc. A basic handset could do this, but would be limited. In many cases, it might need to continuously record and the file then searched for pertinent keywords. 

    I am absolutely certain that this will be coming and that it will be feature exclusive to Android handsets. Apple has control of the entire widget and won't allow such practices. Google cannot stop it. They are at the mercy of the hardware OEMs. 

    Android has some deeply flawed fundamental issues. The handset manufacturers now have the upper hand, especially Samsung who has a full working knowledge of the OS issues and can build the software functionality into their handsets allowing the app producers to access the hardware apart from Android and charge a fee in doing so. Such an arrangement could easily render Google's advertising model obsolete as the data obtained from the handset's camera and microphone directly would be far more valuable. 

    Perhaps the FBI would not need to break into an iPhone. They can simply access the conversation itself directly. 
    I want what you're smoking. Some of you guys should write Apple fan fiction where insane theories like this come to life and you can live out your fantasy where Android users are rounded up by the new world order after all their information is stolen and Apple users are safely in their homes, next to their fireplaces reading their children bedtime stories and living happily ever after.
    staticx57singularitygatorguy
  • Reply 18 of 26
    staticx57 said:
    If Android phones are listening to what shows they watch then I can be spied on just by being in range of an Android user.   That's some BS right there!
    You best not go out in public then since we all have the legal right to take your picture and deoendjng on the state video and audio record you without consent.
    Clearly I was talking about private settings.  Anyone expecting privacy in all public settings has a loose grapse on reality.  That's so obvious that I didn't think it needed to be explicitly stated...
  • Reply 19 of 26
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,278member
    If Android phones are listening to what shows they watch then I can be spied on just by being in range of an Android user.   That's some BS right there!
    You forgot the /s tag.

    As I'm sure you were probably suggesting there would be no way for you to be identified and thus "spied on" even IF a computer server was "listening" to someone else's device.  Therefor ignore the tin-foil being passed around by one or two folks. Other readers might have missed what you really meant but I didn't. 
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 20 of 26
    gatorguy said:
    If Android phones are listening to what shows they watch then I can be spied on just by being in range of an Android user.   That's some BS right there!
    You forgot the /s tag.

    As I'm sure you were probably suggesting there would be no way for you to be identified and thus "spied on" even IF a computer server was "listening" to someone else's device.  Therefor ignore the tin-foil being passed around by one or two folks. Other readers might have missed what you really meant but I didn't. 
    Please spend some time reading up on a technology called "speaker recognition" instead of passive aggressively putting words into my mouth.
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