Cox Media Group Claims It Can Target Ads Based On Conversations

In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind boast, Cox Media Group claimed in marketing materials that it can use microphones in smartphones and other web connected devices to listen in on people's conversations, and then target ads to people based on those conversations.

“It's True. Your Devices Are Listening to You,” the Cox Media Group (CMG) Local Solutions division wrote on a website (now archived) touting “active listening” technology. “With Active Listening, CMG can now use voice data to target your advertising to the EXACT people you are looking for.”

A separate blog post dated November 28 says the company's technology “detects relevant conversations via smartphones, smart TVs, and other devices.”



“We can identify buyers based on casual conversations in real time,” the company writes. “The growing ability to access microphone data on devices like smartphones and tablets enables our technology partner to aggregate and analyze voice data during pre-purchase conversations.”

404media first reported on Cox Media Group's claims.

Late Friday, soon after reports emerged about the company's technology, Cox Media Group stated that its marketing tools include “third-party vendor products powered by data sets sourced from users by various social media and other applications then packaged and resold to data servicers.”

The company added: “Advertising data based on voice and other data is collected by these platforms and devices under the terms and conditions provided by those apps and accepted by their users, and can then be sold to third-party companies and converted into anonymized information for advertisers. ...CMG businesses do not listen to any conversations or have access to anything beyond a third-party aggregated, anonymized and fully encrypted data set that can be used for ad placement.”

The company hasn't yet said whether this technology is actually being deployed.

Some consumers have long suspected that tech companies eavesdrop on conversations by activating smartphones' microphones, and then serving ads based on what's overheard, but there's never been any proof that this is the case.

What's more, Apple and other companies have always denied doing so.

“When we store Siri data on our servers, we don’t use it to build a marketing profile and we never sell it to anyone,” Apple stated in 2019. “We use Siri data only to improve Siri, and we are constantly developing technologies to make Siri even more private.” 

Some other companies have attempted to draw on smartphones' microphones, but in a more limited way than what Cox described in its marketing materials. The best known example is probably SilverPush, which deployed tracking software that monitored people's television use by embedding "audio beacons" in TV ads. Those beacons are inaudible to people, but can be detected by the software, which comes bundled with mobile apps. The software activates microphones in the phones, which then pick up the beacons and can compile a log of TV programs viewed while the smartphone was turned on.

SilverPush reportedly said the technology was in use in India, but not in the U.S. But the technology was still incorporated into at least a dozen Android apps, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In 2016, that agency warned developers of those apps against using this technology without people's knowledge.

2 comments about "Cox Media Group Claims It Can Target Ads Based On Conversations".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, December 18, 2023 at 3:49 p.m.


  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 19, 2023 at 1:55 a.m.

    my main account is with Cox.  I wish for Christmas that Cox does a better job with the spam. Try reading the bad guys mind instead!

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