February 27, 2024

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A marketer is causing panic with his claims that he uses smart devices to eavesdrop on people

A marketer is causing panic with his claims that he uses smart devices to eavesdrop on people

We’ve all been there or heard about it: someone is having a conversation about wanting a red jacket, and suddenly, they seem to see ads for red jackets everywhere.

Manufacturers of microphone-equipped electronic devices sometimes admit to selling audio data to third parties (advertisers). But this is usually accumulated audio data after The user has asked their device to start listening to them and has opted in to this type of data collection (preferably not by default).

But then a marketing company called CMG Local Solutions came along panic Recently by suggesting that it can access people’s private conversations by tapping into data collected by the microphones on their phones, televisions and other personal electronic devices, as first reported by 404 media Thursday. The marketing company said it uses these personal conversations to target ads.

Active listening

CMG Active Listening website It begins with a banner promoting the subtle but alarming statement, “It’s true. Your devices are listening to you.”

Screenshot from CMG's Active Listening website.
Zoom in / Screenshot from CMG’s Active Listening website.

November 28 Blog post The active listening technology is described as using artificial intelligence to “discover relevant conversations across smartphones, smart TVs and other devices.” As such, CMG claimed to know “when and what to adjust.”

The blog also unabashedly highlighted advertisers’ desire to hear every whisper that could help them target campaigns:

This is a world where pre-purchase murmurs don’t go unanalysed, and consumer whispers become a tool with which you can target, retarget and conquer the local market.

The marketing company did not provide precise details how She supports her claims. that Archived The Active Listening website release provided a vague breakdown of how active listening allegedly works.

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The site previously noted that CMG uploads past customer data into its platform to create “buyer personas.” Next, the company identifies keywords that are relevant to the type of person the CMG client wants to target. CMG also mentioned placing a tracking pixel on its clients’ websites before entering the listening phase, which is only described as: “Active listening begins and is analyzed via AI to detect relevant conversations across smartphones, smart TVs and other devices.”

An archived version of the page discussed an AI-based analysis of the data and the creation of an “evergreen coded audience list” used to retarget ads on various platforms, including broadcast TV and audio, display ads, paid social media, YouTube, and Google. And Bing search.

This explanation doesn’t appear to be on the Active Listening page anymore, but CMG still says it can target people who say things like, “A minivan would be perfect for us” or “This air conditioner is on.” [sic] Last stop!” in conversations.

But are they? Actively listening?

In a statement emailed to Ars Technica, Cox Media Group said its advertising tools include “third-party vendor products powered by data sets that are captured from users through various social media and other applications and then packaged and resold to data service providers.” The statement continues:

Voice-based advertising and other data is collected by these platforms and devices under the terms and conditions provided by those applications and accepted by their users, and can then be sold to third-party companies and converted into anonymized information for advertisers. This anonymized data is then resold by various advertising companies.

The company added that it “does not listen to any conversations or have access to anything beyond an aggregated, anonymized, and fully encrypted third-party data set that may be used to place advertising” and “we regret it.”[s] “No confusion.”

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Before Cox Media Group sent out its statement, CMG’s claims to collect data on “real-time casual conversations,” as its blog put it, were questionable. CMG never explained how our devices would somehow be able to have the computing and networking power needed to record and transmit every conversation spoken within range of the device in “real time,” without the device owner’s knowledge. The company also never explained how it obtained the kind of access that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant. This is despite CMG’s blog claim that through active listening, advertisers will be able to find out “the second person in your area who is concerned about mold in their closet,” for example.

CMG’s November blog post pointed to an unnamed technology partner that could “collect and analyze audio data during pre-purchase conversations,” as well as “the increased ability to access microphone data on devices.”