Marketing firm admits it listens to conversations to sell targeted ads

Leading U.S. marketing company Cox Media Group (CMG) has reportedly admitted to monitoring conversations for the purpose of targeted advertising.

Working with renowned brands like CBS, Fox News and ESPN, CMG has allegedly been promoting its ability to eavesdrop on consumers through microphones in smartphones, TVs, and smart speakers.

The agency has coined this capability “Active Listening” and has been actively pitching this service it to advertisers, showcasing the feature on its website, reports 404.

Why we care. Amid the worldwide push for enhanced privacy, including measures like the phasing out of third-party cookies, these statements have caught the PPC community off guard. Many are now speculating about potential repercussions, signaling a warning to the broader industry.

SEO consultant Glenn Gabe responded to the report on X, writing: “This will not end well.”

Google Ads expert, Steve Huskey, added: “Textbook definition of invasion of privacy.”

How it works. CMG allegedly claims that its Active Listening technology can spot potential customers in real-time through everyday conversations. It’s uncertain if this feature is on current devices, but CMG promotes it as a futuristic marketing tool that is “available today.”

Pitching the product. A CMG rep was reportedly spotted on LinkedIn promoting this service, encouraging interested parties to get in touch so that they could provide more information on prices.

What CMG is saying. A CMG spokesperson told Search Engine Land:

  • “CMG Local Solutions markets a wide range of advertising tools. Like other advertising companies, some of those 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.”
  • “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.”
  • “This anonymized data then is resold by numerous advertising companies. 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.”
  • “We regret any confusion and we are committed to ensuring our marketing is clear and transparent.”

What Google is saying. A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land:

  • “For years, Android has prevented apps from collecting audio when they’re not being actively used, and whenever an app activates a device’s microphone, there is a prominent icon displayed in the status bar.”

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Deep dive. Read ‘A PPC guide to privacy-focused audience targeting‘ for more information on how to serve ads while adhering to user privacy best practices.

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