How Symphony Works

Here’s a better story on Symphony, by Brade Dale for The Observer:

For the privacy-conscious, Symphony’s app isn’t hidden inside other apps with permissions buried in user agreements no one reads.

Symphony asks those who opt in to load Symphony-branded apps onto their personal devices, apps that use microphones to listen to what’s going on in the background. With technology from Gracenote, the app can hear the show playing and identify it using its unique sound signature (the same way Shazam identifies a song playing over someone else’s speakers). Doing it that way allows the company to gather data on viewing of sites like Netflix and Hulu, whether the companies like it or not. (Netflix likes data)

It uses specific marketing to recruit “media insiders” into its system, who then download its app (there’s no way for consumers to get it without going through this process). In exchange, it pays consumers $5 in gift cards (and up) per month, depending on the number of devices he or she authorizes.

Potential insiders go through an online sign up process that asks them a bunch of questions about their media habits. So Symphony knows a bit more about them.

Still not clear to me if the app is listening to the microphone all the time, even in the background, or if users have to launch the app manually every time they watch TV. If you’re asking yourself how an app like this ever got into Apple’s App Store, the answer is it didn’t. Users have to install it manually with a custom certificate, like a beta.

I think it’s a creepy app, and anyone who would do this for a measly $5 per month is a fool. I also highly doubt that their pool of participants is representative of the general audience.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016