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Despite the denials, “your devices are listening to you,” says ad company

Can you hear me now? It’s happened to all of us. You’re having a conversation about painting your house, and the next time you go on the internet, you are served with ads for paint. Coincidence? That’s what Google and others have said for years, but are they telling the truth?

Recently, a Cox Media Group (CMG) advertising subsidiary called Local Solutions started a marketing strategy claiming it could use “Active Listening” technology to target a customer with pinpoint accuracy. The method allegedly uses smartphones, smart TVs, and other connected devices to listen in on users to glean insights into what they might want to purchase.

“With Active Listening, CMG can now use voice data to target your advertising to the EXACT people you are looking for,” read the pitch on a now-deleted marketing page. Of course, the Internet Archive snagged a copy as proof.

The material provides examples of how the company could harvest conversations to promote various products, from air conditioners to home loans. However, Local Solutions didn’t explain how it gathers this voice data, making the claim sketchy. Furthermore, Gizmodo notes that neither Cox nor Local Solutions would comment on the dubious assertion.

A company spying via users’ devices seems totally illegal. However, Local Solutions says it’s not, claiming that users gave up their right to privacy when they agreed to terms of service.

“It is totally legal for phones and devices to listen to you,” the company says. “That’s because consumers usually give consent when accepting terms and conditions of software updates or app downloads.”

If Local Solutions genuinely uses voice data for targeting, it is doubtful it directly listens through a user’s device. More likely, other companies, specifically Google, Apple, and perhaps Samsung, would provide such data for a fee. However, all claim they don’t do that, and there is no smoking gun proof that they do.

“Google is listening to us through our phones,” is a long-standing conspiracy theory turned meme that no studies have proven true. Google has firmly denied such accusations. It and other companies have made software and hardware solutions to protect users from the rogue use of cameras and microphones.

Yet the phenomenon of targeted advertising directly related to private conversations continues to be a thing. The most logical explanation is that advertisers know you so well from profiling your searches, cookies, and social media postings that they can predict what you need and when you need it. Still, the timing of these ads seems too perfect for it just to be a coincidence. What do you think?

Are your electronic devices listening to you to serve targeted ads?

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