Developers Receive Warning Letters from FTC for Apps that Could Collect TV Data

Developers Receive Warning Letters from FTC for Apps that Could Collect TV Data
Image: Pixabay
March 17, 2016

Twelve smartphone app developers are in the process of receiving warning letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for including a piece of software, known as Silverpush, that can monitor a phone's microphone to listen for audio signals that are embedded in television advertisements.

The app developers ask users for permission to use the phone's microphone even though the apps don't need that functionality. The letters note that nowhere do the apps in question provide notice that they could monitor television-viewing habits, even if the app isn't in use.

Not currently in use in the U.S. , Silverpush is designed to monitor consumers' television use through audio beacons emitted by TVs. The letters note that the software could be capable of producing a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user's phone was turned on for the purpose of targeted advertising and analytics.

Silverpush encourages app developers to notify consumers that the app could allow third parties to monitor television habits should the software begin to be used in the U.S.

"These apps were capable of listening in the background and collecting information about consumers without notifying them," said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Companies should tell people what information is collected, how it is collected, and who it's shared with."

The FTC letters warn the app developers that if their statements or user interface state or imply that the apps in question are not collecting and transmitting television viewing data when in fact they do, they could be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

All of the apps in question are available in the Google Play store.