Ad Company Gains Attention for Claiming They Can Listen in on Users’ Conversations… Then, Promptly Deletes Their Page

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Dec 22, 2023

Shocking revelations have recently come to light about a long-debated theory that marketing companies can listen in on the public’s smart device conversations to target them with ads.

Cox Media Group wrote of “Active Listening” in a recent blog post, a technology aimed at helping with targeted ads. According to the post, they claimed to be able to listen to people’s conversations via smartphone microphones.

Are Advertising Companies Listening to Phone Calls?

The idea that device companies are able to use smartphones to listen in on private conversations was once considered nothing more than a myth.

Woman talks on the phone during a sunny day in the heart of the city

Source: Freepik

However, recently, a marketing company has bragged about precisely this during a blog post, according to 404 Media.

Active Listening

Cox Media Group shared a blog post centered on a new form of software they refer to as Active Listening.

Man uses facial recognition software to unlock his smartphone

Source: Freepik

According to CMG, this new king of technology can use data sourced from microphones on smartphones and tablets to analyze “pre-purchase conversations.”

CMG Deleted the Post After Backlash

After receiving a considerable amount of backlash and being accused of breaching personal privacy, the blog post was later deleted.

Smartphone user makes use of an artificial intelligence feature on her phone

Source: Freepik

Before the removal of the post, viewers also noticed that CMG mentioned they used AI to determine what phrases uttered in smartphone conversations could be relevant to advertisers.

Viewers Can No Longer Read the Post

Last Friday, online readers noticed that when they tried to access the CMG blog post discussing Active Listing, they were taken back to the website homepage.

Young woman browses the internet on her smartphone while she sits at a wooden desk with her laptop

Source: Freepik

However, an archived version of the article can still be viewed on another website.

Is it Even Legal?

CMG quickly covered its tracks by claiming in the blog post that the Active Listening software is 100% legal.

A woman wearing a pink sweater speaks directly into her smartphone microphone

Source: Freepik

They wrote, “It is legal for phones and devices to listen to you. When a new app download or update prompts consumers with a multi-page term of use agreement somewhere in the fine print, Active Listening is often included.”


How Does Active Listening Work

According to the original blog post, Active Listening uses voice data from conversations users have on their smartphones.

Man uses a wireless microphone to speak during a call on his smartphone

Source: Freepik

This is only possible thanks to advancements in AI, which they claim has the “growing ability to access microphone data.”


Targeting Customers Based on Conversations

The technology uses specific terms as keywords for advertisers that could relate to different items or services they’re trying to sell.

Marketing agent uses his iPad to show off potential products to a group of women

Source: Freepik

“With this unprecedented understanding of consumer behavior, we can deliver personalized ads that make your target audience think: wow, they must be a mind reader,” CMG wrote.


Blog Post Spreads Fear Amongst the Public

The news that companies could listen in on the conversations of everyday smartphone users may now be a reality in certain situations.

A group of worried Americans sit together in a waiting room

Source: Freepik

Until now, no such evidence would suggest this myth was true. Yet, sophisticated ad tracking may already be using technology like Active Listening.


No Response From Cox Media Group

However, it’s important to note it’s unclear whether or not the Active Listing software is currently in use.

Repots gather around a person on the side of the street to ask questions

Source: Freepik

CMG has not yet responded to any request for further information from various news groups.


Privacy Fears Reach a New High

Unfortunately, the CMG post has only further intensified an already suspicious public with regard to privacy concerns centered on technology such as Active Listening.

Smartphone screen displays a screen full of popular social media apps, including Facebook and Instagram

Source: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Some people have claimed that Facebook has used a similar Active Listening technology for years. No evidence has been brought against the social media giant to suggest the claims are valid.


Apple Forced to Change Their Software

In recent years, Apple was forced to change its iOS software to ensure app-makers were more transparent when apps accessed or used a smartphone microphone or location data.

Apple smartphone user dressed in a grey sweatshirt uses his brand new iPhone for the first time

Source: Matt Candy/Getty Images

Now, an orange dot will appear in the top-right corner of the when an Apple product microphone is in use, just like a phone call.