Google bans highly controversial apps that secretly track users

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Google has banned scores of apps that used ultrasonic tracking technology to secretly spy on users.

The tech giant said that apps designed to pick up ‘ultrasonic’ sounds will no longer be included in the Google Play Store.

The news comes less than two weeks after cyber security experts discovered a special tracking code in more than 200 apps which were capable of spying on users.

The apps were from some of the world’s biggest brands including Krispy Kreme and McDonald’s and were found to be tracking users in the Philippines.

The technology works by listening out for signals from the audio in TV adverts. The signals are so high pitched that they are inaudible to human ears.

When the apps hear the signal it then starts tracking information on the user such as their location and what they are watching on TV.

The information gathered then enables companies to specifically target users with advertisements.

Researchers said the apps could “precisely link the watching of even sensitive content such as adult movies or political documentations to a single individual – even at varying locations.”

This means that “advertisers can deduce what and how long an individual is watching and obtain a detailed user profile to deliver highly customised advertisements”.

Google told CBS News that apps in question had either been removed from the Google Play Store or updated in order to meet Google’s privacy policies.

In order for ultrasonic beacons to be permissible by Google, developers have to clearly state the app will use the smartphone microphone for that purpose.

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