Is Your Phone Listening?
It’s no wonder we love our smartphones. They’re wonderfully brilliant, make life a bit easier, and continue to advance with features like facial recognition, waterproof design, and high-resolution cameras that rival professional photography. With each new feature, our infatuation grows, but somewhere along the way, we noticed something...
Our phones are listening to us, and it’s not paranoia.
Recently on a road trip, a friend and I were chatting about estate planning. I have never done any research online or searched for anything remotely related to the topic. Shortly after, I started seeing online ads promoting estate planning firms. On another occasion, I was talking with my family about a possible place to take my father for dinner for his birthday, we mentioned K&W Cafeteria during the conversation (only because my father used to frequent K&W). Later that evening I started seeing ads on Instagram for K&W with $5 off coupons. You can imagine the reaction most people might have. Is my phone listening to me!? How else could I have been targeted by this ad? Coincidence? Probably not.
You likely have a similar story to share—centered around the belief that your phone is, in fact, eavesdropping.
How It Works
I don’t want to confuse this type of “listening/targeting” with a marketing technique called remarketing. Remarketing (or retargeting) uses a special tracking code from websites that you have visited to display targeted ads.For your smart device to actually collect audio snippets from you, a trigger phrase like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google” must be used. But, when it comes to third-party apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat it’s incredibly difficult to define these triggers, with some having upwards of even 1,000 trigger phrases.
While it seems like they are listening in at all hours, Facebook has categorically denied recording audio and selling it to third-party advertisers (even though their user agreement terms would allow for it). As for Google, representatives state that the only time Google is listening in is when hot words/triggers are detected like “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Google”. If the hot word or trigger is not heard the audio snippet stays local on the device and discarded.
It’s highly unlikely that apps like Facebook are recording and storing your data at all times.
Still, microphone data may be transmitted after being triggered by any number of potential reasons, such as saying a certain phrase (i.e. “the perfect surfboard for beginners”).
On The Positive Side: Voice Search Is Good For Business
The possibilities for the future of voice technology are endless, and at the moment one thing is clear: voice search is taking off with products like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Just as quickly as voice search products are entering homes, it too is driving a need among businesses. Since voice search is changing the way people find brands, the demand for businesses to incorporate a voice search strategy in their digital marketing plans is high. Here are some benefits and the truths to voice search:
- Voice technology is here and will continue to grow
- Voice strategy can improve a customer’s experience by making interactions with brands more natural and seamless, which encourages retention and loyalty
- Voice search is driving changes in SEO best practices
- Voice search will drive traffic. The way this works is that when a voice assistant provides an answer, it will also provide users with the ability to open the website from which the answer was pulled.
Big Brands Who Are Already On Board
- Domino’s allows pizza-lovers to order from the comfort of their couch without having to pick up the phone or even place an online order
- PayPal users can engage Siri to send money to friends and family
- Nestlé created a skill that provides voice cooking instructions as you cook, yum!
- Tide provides advice about removing stains caused by over 200 different substances
Tech For Thought
Although Facebook and other applications deny that they’re listening to their users’ conversations and generally avoid discussing the topic, it’s a general consensus in the tech community that this type of data aggregation and targeting occurs regularly.
So yes, at the end of the day our smart devices are listening to us, but it’s not that far off from what we as advertisers are already using with browser histories to inform a customer’s purchase decision.
As voice technology continues to grow and become more popular among consumers, it will become increasingly important for businesses of all shapes and sizes to include a voice search strategy in their overall digital marketing plan. In this coming “AI-first world” (as Google CEO Sundar Pichai called it), marketing should be beefed up to respond to the opportunity of audial customer engagement.
Intrigued by where today’s technology advances and how your business could be standing out (and sounding) through search differently than your competitors, let’s talk!