Surveillance Economy: A few TV ads are tracking you & your phone.

As consumers have begun using ad blockers in greater numbers, skipping TV ads with DVRs, and generally looking for any possible way to avoid advertising, technology providers and marketers have been trying to find new methods to get their messages in front of potential buyers. One of the newer methods uses ultrasonic signals in ads to track users across multiple devices, and security researchers are working on innovative methods to defeat this system.

The ultrasonic tracking method relies on inaudible signals embedded in TV commercials or other ads that can then be picked up by code in an app on a user’s phone, tablet, or other device. The idea is to match users with their devices and ensure that the advertisers’ messages are finding them, wherever they are. There are several companies using this technology, including SilverPush, an Indian firm whose code is in a number of mobile apps. 

How ultrasonic tracking helps marketers to collect users data?

For advertisers, marketers, and the technology companies that provide their tools it’s the holy grail. It gives companies the ability to gather intelligence on not just what content users are consuming, but how they’re doing so, where they are when they’re watching it or reading it, and what device they’re consuming the content on. That’s incredibly valuable data for marketers

Who invented this technology & How it works?

An Indian company called SilverPush has developed a technology that allows advertisers to track users across multiple devices through the use of inaudible sound beacons. The signals are sent by TV ads and mobile devices that have the SilverPush SDK installed will pick up the beacons and identify the device as belonging to the same person as the TV sending the signal.

The audio beacons are frequencies from 18kHz to 20kHz, a range that is inaudible to most humans but can be reliably detected by most phone microphones. By embedding them into audio, marketers can track the whereabouts of shoppers as they move throughout a large department store.

How it is dangerous?

Researchers has found that it imposes serious privacy threats. e.g., tracking locations, behavior devices, and even the de-anonymization of Tor users.” It is equally exploitable by the hackers.


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