As shop tabs on Instagram, ad spots on X, and shop videos on TikTok become even more predictable than usual, users are still sending warning signals that our devices are selling our data to the world’s big advertisers. They may (or may not) be right.
According to an investigation by 404 Media, a marketing team run by media giant Cox Media Group (CMG) has begun offering a new advertising strategy based on an AI-powered tool called ‘Active Listening’, which it claims has the ability to listen to ambient conversations through smartphones, smart TVs and other devices with an activated microphone.
“What would it mean for your business if you could target potential customers who actively discuss their need for your services in their everyday conversations? No, it’s not an episode of Black Mirror – it’s voice data and CMG has the capabilities to use it for your business.” CMG website says. CMG has previously worked with big tech and business names such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
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In an archived blog post from November, the agency said the tool signals how machine learning algorithms are ushering in a new era of marketing, and noted that Active Listening, while “fit for the future,” is “available today.” Before removing the page, company representatives also posted about the active listening tool on social media platforms, including LinkedIn, 404 Media reports.
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CMG claims that its clients can use this listening data to target very specific user demographics and even set geos to target specific user regions.
However, the technology behind CMG’s claim that it can listen and tailor its ads to user conversations has yet to be verified — perhaps signaling that the hype surrounding potential listening devices is itself a gimmick.
Consumers have long worried about whether their devices can listen to and record their conversations, especially with the advent of smart home devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. And while there have been cases of archived conversations being captured by smart device microphones, there has never been confirmation that device audio is being sent to advertisers and retail companies. For now, users must take privacy into their own hands by managing listening and data collection settings at their discretion.
The FCC has yet to comment on such allegations, which could have far-reaching legal and privacy implications.