FTC challenges Android developers on their use of SilverPush microphone spyware

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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.