Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters encouraging twelve unnamed app developers to provide clear disclosures about any use of “audio beacon” technology to monitor the television-viewing habits of US consumers. According to the FTC, these developers’ mobile apps potentially included code to implement audio beacons. This technology, which was highlighted at the FTC’s Cross-Device Tracking Workshop in November, relies on sounds to track consumers across devices. It works by embedding inaudible tones into television commercials and other programming, and these audio signals then can be recognized by a mobile app that has permission to access a device’s microphone. (More information is available in our earlier workshop client alert.)
The FTC discovered that several mobile apps included a software development kit created by Silverpush, which offers audio beacon technologies. While it appears that this specific functionality only has been deployed outside the United States, the FTC is concerned that the code found in these apps maintains the same capabilities. The FTC notes that audio beacons run silently in the background, collecting information, even when consumers are not actively using their mobile devices.