#2. Eavesdropping Through Your Computer
Tired of being bombarded with sci-fi marketing messages from all directions, you decide to spend the rest of the day indoors idly browsing the Web. Sure, there are commercials and whatnot, but you're well-trained in the art of tuning them out.
It's just a matter of smashing your head against the wall in the right place.
Then your roommate walks in and says, "You know what I wish I had? A blanket for my face." Just as you are about to turn around and tell him that he is too stoned for conversation, a pop-up ad appears on your computer, inviting you to buy a Face Blanket at Getyourfaceblankethere.com.
"It's full of BOOgains!"
Ha! You think. It's almost like it can hear us!
What's going on is your computer's microphone has been listening all along. And it's not a thing of the distant future, nor necessarily even of tomorrow: Google has already developed the technology to listen in on ambient sounds around your house, then fire off relevant ads to your Web browser. It can even keep up with your TV while you're channel surfing.
"Google: Expect that secret volcanic base any day now."
And while they're only talking about using it in synch with broadcast TV content (advertising products that tie in to whatever is playing on your TV), this acoustic fingerprinting technology could be applied to any and all sounds coming from within the reception area, including the ones made by you.
"We heard loud screaming! Would you like this noise-canceling headset for only $19.95?"
But we're not going to have to speculate for long -- acoustic fingerprinting technology is actually going to be rolled out by AsSeenOnTV.com any day now. Their plan is to listen to the television infomercials that your cellphone picks up and then take you directly to a mobile website where you can purchase the product pretty much instantly. But hey, it's all about convenience and not at all about listening to whatever is going on in your house. Certainly no potential for abuse there.
#1. Eavesdropping on Your Phone Calls
With every ad executive in the world seemingly on board the Invading Your Privacy Train, it's at least comforting to know that there are some aspects of your life that you can control without any commercial messages. Like, for instance, phone calls. Hell, think about the trouble the cops have to go through to listen in on a phone call. The thought of some advertiser trying to do it just to throw conversation-relevant ads at you is laughable. Right?
"Let me listen to this housewife's inane chatter in the name of capitalism!"
Well, tell that to Pudding Media, a marketing company that is doing that very thing.
Here's how it works. Much like Google scans your Gmail account to throw content-relevant ads at you, Pudding Media's Internet phone service agrees to provide its technology to you free of charge -- as long as you allow them to eavesdrop on your phone calls via voice-recognition software in order to show you ads that tie in to whatever you're talking to Mom about.
"Ha! That's weird. My browser is giving me ads for divorce lawyers again!"
Privacy is, naturally, a huge issue here -- big enough that even other players in the business express concern over the idea. But don't worry, Pudding Media's CEO Ariel Maislos has squashed any potential issues with privacy: He says that their target group is young people, and they don't care about privacy.
"We often watch teenagers undressing at night through their windows. They don't even notice."
Seriously, their justification for the whole business model is that since kids use Facebook and shit and basically live in the open anyway, they should have no problem with a marketing company listening to their private phone calls. But don't worry, Maislos promises they're not going to store any data, and we certainly can't imagine a former military intelligence officer turned marketing executive would ever deceive us.
Dwayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can read more from him on his blog.
For more advertising creepiness, check out The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future and 10 Awesome Ads (For Traumatizing Children).
And stop by LinkSTORM to see yourself reading Cracked.
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