SEO

Marketing giant ‘admits it listens to your 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 Gelnn 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. The company did not respond to Search Engine Land’s request for comment. However, a promotional post on its website, which appears to have now been removed, reportedly read:

  • “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?”
  • “No, it’s not a Black Mirror episode—it’s Voice Data, and CMG has the capabilities to use it to your business advantage.”

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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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About the author

Nicola Agius

Nicola Agius is Paid Media Editor of Search Engine Land after joining in 2023. She covers paid search, paid social, retail media and more. Prior to this, she was SEO Director at Jungle Creations (2020-2023), overseeing the company’s editorial strategy for multiple websites. She has over 15 years of experience in journalism and has previously worked at OK! Magazine (2010-2014), Mail Online (2014-2015), Mirror (2015-2017), Digital Spy (2017-2018) and The Sun (2018-2020). She also previously teamed up with SEO agency Blue Array to co-author Amazon bestselling book Mastering In-House SEO.

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