What is Alphonso?
Many gaming apps like “Honey Quest,” “Maze Runner” and “Real Bowling” may seem harmless – some are targeted at children and marketed as educational. Yet, once these apps have been installed on a smartphone or tablet, they have been found to be secretly recording their users to inform targeted advertising. This recording even happens with apps that do not otherwise use the device’s microphone.
The software behind this surveillance is called Alphonso Automated Content Recognition, which has been found in more than 250 games and social apps in Google Play and the App Store. Alphonso’s CEO has said that the software is being used in over 1,000 games and apps in total, but would not share which apps or how many users it collects data from.
Alphonso allows apps to hijack a phone’s microphone and analyses the audio it picks up to identify TV ads, shows and movies. That data can tell marketers a lot about potential consumers, including children. The app can continue recording even if it isn’t being used.
The policy also states that it “may combine any of the information we collect, and use and share it” with third parties for their own marketing or analysis purposes, or as a part of a sale of the company. Alphonso’s successor will have all of the rights to data gathered.
What can parents do?
When choosing games for young children, make sure you always read reviews before downloading. When the app is downloaded, start it up yourself for the first time. If the game requests access to the microphone or camera, especially if they are unnecessary to gameplay, be aware that this app may contain the Alphonso software.