The Gist

  • Targeted advertising. CMG’s “Active Listening” raises privacy concerns in ad targeting.
  • Consumer perspectives. Lack of consensus among consumers on privacy and targeted ads.
  • Legal vs. ethical. CMG’s practices legal but raise ethical questions in the advertising industry.

In the current landscape of technological innovation, there’s a critical conversation emerging that’s impossible to ignore, especially for those at the helm of corporate strategy and customer experience when it comes to targeted advertising. Where do we draw the line between harnessing technology for business growth and respecting the privacy of our customers? 

Building Trust With Customers

This is more than just a debate about privacy; it’s about the trust we build with our customers. One of the many challenges in navigating this particular privacy issue is a lack of consensus even among consumers, says Mark Nardone, chief marketing officer at PAN Communications. “You’ll encounter people who see this as a real breach of privacy, and you’ll also encounter people who couldn’t care less.”

Related Article: When It Comes to Customer Experience, the Days of Targeted Advertising Are Numbered

Targeted Advertising: CMG ‘Active Listening’ Claims Spark Backlash

CMG, associated with one of the largest cable companies in the U.S., has claimed it can listen to consumer conversations through smartphones, smart speakers, smart TVs, and other devices for targeted advertising. This controversial practice, which CMG terms “Active Listening,” has raised significant concerns about privacy and the extent of eavesdropping by marketing and advertising companies.

A person interacts with a smart speaker in the kitchen with plants, a sink and windows visible in the background in piece about targeted advertising and active listening.
CMG, associated with one of the largest cable companies in the U.S., has claimed it can listen to consumer conversations through smartphones, smart speakers, smart TVs, and other devices for targeted advertising.Jouni on Adobe Stock Photos

In a Nov. 28 blog post initially highlighted by 404 Media, CMG Local Solutions’ discussed its Active Listening marketing solution where it can customize a campaign “to listen for any keywords/targets relevant to your business.” The blog post, which was later removed, asked marketers to “Imagine a world where you can read minds. One where you know the second someone in your area is concerned about mold in their closet, where you have access to a list of leads who are unhappy with their current contractor, or know who is struggling to pick the perfect fine dining restaurant to propose to their discerning future fiancé.” 

Related Article: Programmatic Advertising for Highly Personalized, Targeted Marketing

Whispered Secrets Can Become Ads

Most frighteningly, CMG Local Solutions underscored that “This is a world where no pre-purchase murmurs go unanalyzed, and the whispers of consumers become a tool for you to target, retarget, and conquer your local market.” An archived version of the blog, shown below, can be seen at

CMG is part of a media empire encompassing television and radio stations, including 14 TV stations, 52 radio stations, a news bureau, and several streaming and digital platforms. It asserts that its technology is able to gather data from conversations picked up by device microphones. According to the CMG blog post as shown below, this practice is legal, purportedly covered under the terms of service agreed upon by consumers when purchasing new devices.

Is It Legal?

The rationale is that smart assistants necessitate devices to be always listening, and this data collection is supposedly beneficial for both consumers and businesses. The potential positive side of this for consumers — privacy concerns aside — is that it could mean fewer irrelevant ads, while businesses could more accurately target potential customers. 

CMG’s “Active Listening” claims to create customer profiles based on overheard conversations, and then uses AI to fine-tune targeted advertising. The process described involves setting up specific areas for business growth and receiving real-time notifications when potential customers express relevant needs or interests.


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