Your television could very well be watching you. It might seem like the stuff of the so-called “tinfoil hat” crowd, a throwback to the days when overly-worried doomsday believers thought the v-chip in their televisions could be listening in on their conversations.
Unfortunately, a company whose product has already been in place for over a year is not too far off that conspiracy theory mark.The Indian company SilverPush, creators of the Audio Beacon software, says it works by connecting your television viewing habits to your smartphone.
During certain commercials that are contracted through the company’s Prism software, the television will play an inaudible sound that your smartphone will pay attention to. Then, your phone sends the data back to the company, informing them of your viewing habits with a special focus on which advertisements you watched.
Obviously, privacy advocates are more than a little outraged. After all, the US Supreme Court has already ruled that your smartphone and devices are legally as private as your house and therefore protected against illegal searches. That makes this is an unacceptable invasion in their minds, especially as it links both your smartphone and your house without your permission.
Or does it? The company has stated that users agreed to be tracked this way when they allowed the SilverPush app to access their smartphones’ microphones. The purpose of that permission is the enable the phone to “hear” the audio ping played during the commercials, thereby tracking what you watched.
While advocates and advertisers can wage war over this type of invasion of privacy, it serves as an important reminder to the general public: be aware of what you’re agreeing to when you download an app. While the typical terms of service for any app or software often contains a lot of legalese and jargon, the request for permissions is far more simple. Apps will ask for permission to access your microphone, your photos, your contact list, or other content stored in your device, and you have to either allow the permission or deny it. Users who blindly click “allow” are fair game for this kind of tracking, at least in the company’s eyes.
Fortunately, this kind of tracking is not a problem in the US… yet. Officials from SilverPush have stated that the advertising tracking is limited to companies in India for now, but the number of businesses using their Audio Beacon technology to track the success of their advertising is currently around one hundred separate companies.