Your Devices Are Listening To You, Claims Media Agency

Media firm Cox Media Group (CMG) is touting a technology named “Active Listening” that claims to utilize embedded microphones in smartphones, smart TVs, and other devices to eavesdrop on ambient conversations. A recent piece by 404 Media delved into CMG’s marketing materials and a pitch to an outside professional, revealing the company’s assertion that it can gather data from real-time casual conversations to target ads effectively.

The revelation seemingly confirms long-standing suspicions among the public that devices are indeed listening for ad-targeting purposes. While such capabilities were largely dismissed as myth until now, CMG asserts that “Active Listening” is not only real but is a marketing technique available today, though it remains unclear if the technology is currently in use on devices in the market.

CMG Local Solutions, the division responsible for advertising this capability, claims to offer unprecedented precision in targeting potential clients based on snippets from everyday conversations. Clients can purportedly specify a territory within a 10 or 20-mile radius, after which “Active Listening” begins analyzing conversations via smartphones, smart TVs, and other devices using artificial intelligence (AI).

Despite the bold claims, legal concerns immediately arise, as intercepting communications without proper consent may violate wiretapping laws. CMG addresses these concerns on its website, stating that the technology is legal because consumers generally provide consent when accepting terms and conditions during software updates or app downloads.

A screenshot from Cox Media Group’s since-deleted blog post on “Active Listening.”
Source: Business Insider

The marketing materials highlight CMG’s partnerships with major companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. However, responses from these tech giants are varied, with Amazon acknowledging the request for comment, Microsoft declining to comment, and Google emphasizing Android’s prevention of apps from collecting audio when not actively in use.

In response to the growing concerns and skepticism, CMG released a statement asserting that its businesses do not listen to any conversations. Instead, the company claims to utilize third-party vendor products powered by data sets sourced from users by various social media and applications, which are then packaged and resold to data servicers.

This controversy has sparked debate around broader privacy fears concerning devices equipped with microphones. CMG’s since-deleted blog post, though still available in archived form, may add fuel to existing concerns about the potential misuse of voice data.

Information for this story was found via 404 Media, Business Insider, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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