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April 20, 2022

Are My Devices Really Listening to Me?

Are My Devices Really Listening to Me?

You’re sitting at home, having a conversation with someone about a restaurant or a new piece of clothing you want to buy. Two minutes later, you see an advertisement on your phone for that same exact restaurant or clothing store.

How does your phone know what you’re saying? Is there a microphone, constantly listening for buzzwords and then rapidly bringing you ads for those things you talk about?

Advertising these days can be pretty advanced, but when you look at life in general, everything is very interconnected. Most things nowadays technology-wise are meant to work together, and they do that by listening and observing consumer behaviors cues.

Private vs. Public Information

Advertisers can’t knock down your front door and take ALL your information—your information is still pretty private and there are plenty of ways to remain anonymous online. But the Internet is a big place, and we leave digital footprints every day.

Think about it—whenever you browse online, purchase an item, or even like certain photos on social media, you’re leaving a trail of patterns and preferences that others can pick up on. Your data can even link you and someone else, like a family member or significant other, depending on geolocation or similar addresses when online shopping.

But all this tracking isn’t dangerous—it actually helps you get the best ads that apply to your life and can benefit you. For example, if you’ve been searching for new cars in your area, targeted ads can help you find more information and better deals or offers near you geographically.

But are they listening? What are they listening to? Is nothing private anymore?

Who is Listening

According to U Switch, “Google has previously revealed that its employees have listened to customer audio recordings from Google Home smart speakers. But it says this is strictly to develop its voice recognition technology and improve Google Assistant’s artificial intelligence tech.”

Other companies like Vizio and Samsung (TVs, phones, etc) have user agreements that reveal that yes, they are listening to your conversations , if you consent to use the voice-recognition feature. There are many more devices and systems listening, but rest assured, they are not fully listening. Instead, they are essentially skimming your conversations to only pick up on keywords/buzzwords. Additionally, your personal info is anonymized so you are not John or Jane Doe—you are ID 3458761 for example.

Why They Listen

Oftentimes, virtual assistants like Siri or Google need listening capabilities to assist you. Genius Monkey COO Travis Champ said that many devices, like the Amazon Echo, listen in for emergency purposes and can be beneficial for those situations as well. In 2017, an Amazon Echo device even helped to save a woman’s life when it picked up on physical abuse in the home and dialed 911.

Champ said, for example, if you said the word “Target” in a conversation, that’s a keyword that a TV or phone could listen to and pick up. You’ll then receive ads for not only Target stores, but similar stores that can link you to a certain shopper affinity group.

Are My Devices Really Listening to Me?

One way you can be tracked online is through “cookies.” Usually, when you visit a website, you give permission for that site to track your behavior. Here’s a better explanation: “So-called “first-party cookies” allow websites to “remember” certain details about our interaction with the site.” Through these cookies, an advertiser can paint a picture of your life—your likes, dislikes, patterns, shopping habits, and more.

However, in early 2020, Google announced they were phasing out these third–party cookies, ultimately giving power back to the users to keep their information private. This phase-out has been delayed to 2023, with many weighing in on this topic.

COO Travis Champ said he isn’t worried about the cookie changes that are coming. He said Genius Monkey has been preparing for this for many years. “We aren’t just targeting off the cookie anymore,” Champ said. “We are targeting via behavioral targeting, interest-based affinities and first-party data. When it comes to being able to target off of conversations you are having, not much will change, because the targeted user is not being singled out and targeted off a cookie.”

Instead of being targeted from a cookie, the keyword someone uses in conversation will place them into an interest-based user group, where everyone in that group can be targeted with applicable ads.

You’re In Good Hands

You don’t have to be worried about devices listening to you (unless you were the one committing the abuse in the 2017 Echo situation), because you’re not being specifically targeted, and the advertisements you receive are meant to make your life easier and better. Interconnectivity is a part of regular life, and especially in today’s world, you can’t go many places without needing that connectivity.

Genius Monkey has been in the programmatic advertising space for more than 10 years, and we understand the ins and outs of targeted advertising. We are directly involved through organizations like the iAB to help regulate the industry by keeping the consumers’ best interests and privacy in mind. We know the best way for all parties to be served is to keep the consumer first so the choice remains yours, whether you decide to purchase something or click away.

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