Advertisers Tracking TV, PC & Mobile Use Through Inaudible Sounds

/ 4 years ago

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Free internet advocates the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have raised concerns with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that online behaviour is being tracked across multiple devices via high-frequency sounds emitted by televisions and computers that are imperceptible to the human ear, but that can be recognised by tablets and smartphones. The inaudible sounds are embedded in TV and online commercials and act like cookies, tracked by handheld devices and used to compile data on a user and determine whether an advert triggers the user to search for the product online.

Sounds barmy, right? Like the kind of conspiracy cooked up by paranoid chemtrail proponents. But the technology is real and is being pioneered by a startup called SilverPush. SilverPush’s Unique Audio Beacon allows advertisers to surreptitiously hide ultrasonic noise within commercials to allow cross-device tracking.

According to the SilverPush website, this is how UAB works:

Add Beacon: Add our patented inaudible audio beacon to your TV creative

Measure: Millions of users with SilverPush powered SDK are listening to TV ads everyday

Retarget: Reach out to mobile users who have watched your TV ad.

The technology is already in use, with dozens of marketing companies utilising UAB in its advertisements.

The CDT outlined its concerns in a letter to the FTC:

“Cross-device tracking can also be performed through the use of ultrasonic inaudible sound beacons. Compared to probabilistic tracking through browser fingerprinting, the use of audio beacons is a more accurate way to track users across devices. The industry leader of cross-device tracking using audio beacons is SilverPush. When a user encounters a SilverPush advertiser on the web, the advertiser drops a cookie on the computer while also playing an ultrasonic audio through the use of the speakers on the computer or device. The inaudible code is recognized and received on the other smart device by the software development kit installed on it. SilverPush also embeds audio beacon signals into TV commercials which are “picked up silently by an app installed on a [device] (unknown to the user).” The audio beacon enables companies like SilverPush to know which ads the user saw, how long the user watched the ad before changing the channel, which kind of smart devices the individual uses, along with other information that adds to the profile of each user that is linked across devices.

The user is unaware of the audio beacon, but if a smart device has an app on it that uses the SilverPush software development kit, the software on the app will be listening for the audio beacon and once the beacon is detected, devices are immediately recognized as being used by the same individual. SilverPush states that the company is not listening in the background to all of the noises occurring in proximity to the device. The only factor that hinders the receipt of an audio beacon by a device is distance and there is no way for the user to opt-out of this form of cross-device tracking. SilverPush’s company policy is to not “divulge the names of the apps the technology is embedded,” meaning that users have no knowledge of which apps are using this technology and no way to opt-out of this practice. As of April of 2015, SilverPush’s software is used by 67 apps and the company monitors 18 million smartphones.”

Pretty shady, huh?

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One Response to “Advertisers Tracking TV, PC & Mobile Use Through Inaudible Sounds”
  1. Mike Felde says:

    Every time I think I’m just being paranoid and things aren’t really as bad as I think they are, something like this pops up and shows me that yes, I really was right and it’s only getting worse.

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