IoE Things Are Spying On Us

Direct marketers are using hiddenware to figure out what we’re thinking.

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Special inaudible sounds are being embedded in Web pages and television commercials.

In India, a company called SilverPush embeds short, ultrasonic sounds into television commercials and Web pages. Not only that, complementary software is being snuck onto computers, tablets, and smartphones. This software will pick up these “inaudible” signals and, via cookies, send what it learns back to SilverPush, which in turn sends the data to its customers (the advertisers).

SilverPush’s position is that this is the next generation of advertising. They aren’t invisible or even clandestine about it. They openly admit what they do. The company sells several products, including an audio beacon, to complete a loop that finds out what you are interested in and sends it to the advertiser.

This is called cross-device tracking and is is the latest fad for Internet marketers to do targeted advertising. It isn’t new, but it is starting to reach new heights. And if you think it is only for smart TVs, just wait. Soon IoE things like smart thermostats, smart appliances, smart socks—even smart cars—will be sending data back to advertisers so they can sell you new furnace filters, toothpaste, tires, and anything else they can think of.

In addition to SilverPush, there are other unknowns like file d4Info, Drawbridge, Flurry, and Cross Screen Consultants. Google, Facebook, and Yahoo are doing it, too. No wonder it is so easy to sneak this onto devices. So far, these are relatively dumb applications. By that I mean they aren’t really aware of each other. But they are working on that.

Retailers are drooling over this. Finally, a simple and direct way to connect TV commercials with an individual’s purchase or investigation of a product. They can tell for certain if the commercial has influenced the individual to purchase the product.

So now that we know what they are doing, how can they do this without our consent? If all of these were people with little scribble pads following us around and writing down everything we do, we certainly would object. But with this “hiddenware,” it is a lot harder to observe.

Well, in reality, we did consent. How? You know all those license agreements we never read? That’s how. This kind of stuff is embedded in every download and all the software we buy when we install it. If you read the EULAs, and you don’t agree, it won’t load. And once loaded, these errant spyware apps and devices drill down and get buried so deep they are impossible to find unless you know exactly what you are looking for.

So we have given all of these rights to these players somewhere along the line. And the way U.S privacy law currently is written, these folks own all of that data and don’t have to let us know what they have. All of this is pretty devious, especially because they go to such great lengths to do this essentially invisible surveillance.

The FTC is looking into this. But as with most government agencies, regulation is far slower than technology rollouts. And because there is a lot of money at stake, this technology will ramp up fast. The surveillance economy emerged because there was no regulation in the first place, and it has grown into a powerful industry that is looking to expand beyond computers and smartphones. The IoE is fertile hunting ground for these players.

Now the question is exactly what they’ve tapped into. But I’m onto them now. If I get an ad for foot deodorant, I’m pitching my smart socks.