Ad Company Claims ‘It’s True. Your Devices Are Listening to You’

Ad Company Claims ‘It’s True. Your Devices Are Listening to You’

There’s little to no evidence suggesting that “your devices are listening to you,” but that hasn’t stopped people from believing big tech is monitoring every word they say. Now, a marketing subsidiary of Cox Media Group is throwing fuel on the fire with claims that it can deploy “active listening” through your smartphone, smart TV, and other devices to target ads for its clients.

First reported by 404 Media, Cox Media Group Local Solutions plastered the theory on its website as an advertising strategy. “With Active Listening, CMG can now use voice data to target your advertising to the EXACT people you are looking for,” the company wrote.

Screenshot: CMG Local Solutions

CMG has since redirected the “Active Listening” page of its website, but you can find it on the internet archive, and it’s still listed as a strategy. The marketing company asks you to “imagine” what it would do for your business if you could target clients using specific phrases in their day-to-day conversations. “The AC is on it’s last leg!” the company uses as an example. The marketing company seems to be promoting a conspiracy theory, and privacy nightmare, that your phone’s microphone is recording everything you say and selling it to advertisers. CMG Local Solutions provides very few details on how they do this, and its claims are dubious, to say the least.

Cox Media Group and its marketing subsidiary did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Screenshot: CMG Local Solutions

Past research has shown very little evidence that your phone’s microphone is listening to you. There is much more conclusive evidence that the combination of your search queries, social media usage, and cookies is more than enough for advertisers to track your data and understand your life. However, CMG Local Solutions seems to be making ad deals with “active listening” as a product.

So is this legal? CMG Local Solution’s website says “YES- it is totally legal for phones and devices to listen to you. That’s because consumers usually give consent when accepting terms and conditions of software updates or app downloads.” However, the marketing company provides very few details about how the data is truly gathered or who is giving it to them, and these claims cannot be verified. Apple also lets users know if their microphone or screen is being actively recorded with a small icon on your screen, so you’d likely know if your iPhone was monitoring ambient audio.

The marketing company says they create an audience with voice data and retarget ads to users via streaming, social media, YouTube, and Google search. CMG Local Solutions says it has partnered with Google for 12 years, and lists other partners like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. These partners and the Federal Communications Commission did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

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