Marketers Claim to Listen In on Households

John Lister's picture

A marketing company claims it can listen in to private conversations in peoples' homes and gather data for targeted advertising. It's not clear if Cox Media Group (CMG) is "revealing" a poorly kept secret or exaggerating its capabilities to boost business.

The claims were made by CMG's marketing team in a pitch to other marketers. The details were revealed through a leak to 404 Media. (Source:

According to the report of the leak, CMG promoted the technology as "Active Listening" and asked potential clients "What would it mean for your business if you could target potential clients who are actively discussing their need for your services in their day-to-day conversations? " It appears it claimed to be able to listen in through phones, devices and smart TVs.

Trigger Phrases

The pitch gave examples of conversations householders might have that could identify them in a target market. These included "The car lease ends in a month-we need a plan" and "We need to get serious about planning for retirement."

CMG also told potential clients that could sign up to monitor householders in a specific 10 or 20 mile radius. Once identified as suitable customers for a particular advertisers, householders would start seeing adds delivered by CMG "through streaming TV, streaming audio, display ads, YouTube, and Google and Bing search." (Source:

When questioned about the leak, CMG said its businesses "do not listen to any conversations" and that all data it collects is done in compliance with terms and conditions accepted by users. It added that "We regret any confusion and we are committed to ensuring our marketing is clear and transparent."

Hype Vs Reality

That leaves several possible explanations. One is that CMG technology is indeed analyzing audio from people's homes and "listening out" for trigger phrases that could help target ads. Another is that it is developing such technology and plans to use it after attracting clients. A third possibility is that it has, at the least, significantly overhyped the technology to potential clients.

Many tech users have reported situations where they've spoken about something and seen a related ad shortly afterwards. However, most tech experts believe the amount of processing required to run a "listening operation" wouldn't be financially viable for marketers. They also note that the sheer amount of data marketers and tech platforms can access on users, particularly by cross-referencing with friends and other contacts, means "listening in" isn't necessary.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe CMG has the tech capabilities it promoted in the pitch? Do you believe any tech companies are monitoring audio of conversation to target ads to customers? Do such reports and claims make you think twice about accepting terms and conditions on gadgets and services?

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