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AUDIO TRACKING: HOW DEVICES ARE “LISTENING” AND HOW ADVERTISERS ARE BENEFITING

10 Dec 2015
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Feel like your devices are talking about you behind your back? Well in a sense, you’re right, and you can consider them advertisers’ accomplices in the quest to target consumers more effectively than ever.

Ad targeting is clearly not a new concept, but now, as The Atlantic explains, “between laptops, phones, tablets, wearables, and Internet-enabled cars and TVs, advertisers have access to more information than ever before for ad targeting. They just need to figure out which devices live under the same roof.”

That’s where your devices and the idea of audio tracking come in.

Silverpush and other startups have developed and implemented high frequency “audio beacons” (a type of ultrasonic tech) to track users’ online activity between multiple devices and platforms. Here’s an example: You’re watching Mr. Robot, minding your own business, maybe enjoying a Lean Cuisine… perusing OKCupid… whatever (we don’t judge). Then the show cuts to a commercial break, during whichcompletely unbeknownst to youinaudible tones embedded within specific commercials emanate from your television. These signals are then picked up by your phone, tablet or any device equipped with running SilverPush software, establishing a known relationship. The device then makes note of the match, and that information is added to your individual profile. (This is the part of the article where you discover you have a profile…and we’re not referring to that online dating one.)

So what’s the point? Consider this a means to achieve a more advanced form of targeted advertising than ever before. All of the sudden, advertisers are able to follow the path of their ad and determine its success and relevance to you, the user. How long did you watch the ad? Did you search for it on their phone? Compare prices on your tablet? Purchase on your laptop? This technology becomes a way for companies to monitor for marketing and selling purposes in a more powerful, pervasive and—some might say— invasive way than ever before.

Think back to the time you first read George Orwell’s 1984. The concept of a “Big Brother” who’s always watching was probably unthinkable…and terrifying. Fast-forward to now: We’ve realized the amazing possibilities of the IoT and accepted that there are some definite compromises we make for the convenience of connectivity, the primary one being privacy. In many cases, we know we’re being monitored, and it’s a fairly obvious phenomenon, with our Internet history being essentially reflected in the ads that stalk us around the web. We’ve gotten used to the idea of being tracked to some extent, and though we may despise online advertising enough to pay to avoid it (hence the rise of ad blocking), we’re no longer horrified by it and, in many cases, we even enjoy the benefits of a personalized user experience.

However, there is something undeniably eerie about this new form of tracking and the idea that your devices are essentially communicating without your knowledgeor consent. (And there’s a solid chance that they are: As of April 2015, SilverPush’s technology was found in 67 apps and connected to 18 million smartphones.)

The Federal Trade Commission has yet to rule on the ethics or the legality of this particular technology, but we may have to accept it as a new reality. It’s no secret that the government has been watching us for years, and now consumers may have to accept that even beer, travel and car companies are in our living room and devices as well. And while it may be a little creepy, who knows…maybe it may somehow improve your OKCupid odds.