Mar 23 AT 3:08 PM Dustin Earley 61 Comments

Google wants to monitor your phone calls’ background noise to better serve you ads


Google is no stranger to collecting your information in order to better serve you advertisements, but if a recently filed patent ever comes to life, the company will be taking it to the next level.

Google has made a fortune out of organizing information. They’ve created algorithms and catalogued the Internet. They’ve taken pictures all over the globe and used them to create an accurate ground-level map of the world. They’ve charted the seas and skies, handed out alternatives to expensive software and created an open source operating system, just to give it away to manufacturers for free. Why? To serve you ads.

That’s how Google really makes money. Their ads are everywhere. And more often than not, they’re tailor made to the things that interest you. By looking at the things you search for and look at online, Google can serve you ads that should be of more interest to you. In theory, that’s supposed to make you click on more ads. “Oh hey, I was just searching for this type of product, and here’s an ad for one! What luck!”

Apparently, the current methods of information collection are not fast enough though. Google needs to know how to better serve you ads based on the here and now of what’s going on around you. But it’s not like Google can place some sort of monitoring device on you that would tell them if you’re stuck in the rain, right? Well, wrong.

Google has recently filed a patent titled “Advertising based on environmental conditions.” Google wants to monitor your phone calls, and listen for things to pick up on that could be of use for advertising. Like rain, so they can sell you umbrellas. Of course, it wouldn’t be a human tapping into your phone calls, filling out information on you. It would be a robot. Which makes it totally not creepy.

It doesn’t stop there though. Google would also like to analyze the pictures you take. If you take some pictures in the snow, for example, Google could send you ads for snow shovels or other snow related products.

This is absolutely terrifying.

Google released a statement on these patent filings saying that not all patents signal a future product or service. Some of the technologies patented by Google do mature into final products, while some don’t. Either way, the fine folks at Google are not only occupying themselves imagining a world where companies get to listen to your phone calls to make more money, but they see themselves playing a key roll in it.

I’ve always been creeped out by personalized advertising, but this is taking it to a whole new level. Can you imagine every one of your phone calls being monitored to serve you ads based on what’s going on around you? Would you mind if your phone sent the pictures you take to a computer, where they’re analyzed for key information on your whereabouts?

If this is the future of products like Google Voice and Instant Upload, you can count me out now.

Bonus video: Thank you Javier for pointing out the hilarious video from fake news site The Onion.

Source: The Next Web

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

    Most Tweeted This Week

  • Rick

    M$ also wants to do the same thing with Skype.

    Also, the government does this exact same thing with all our phones calls.

    • Jon Garrett

      No matter who does it or why, I don’t like it. I don’t want anybody snooping and spying. Its really a shame that we as Americans allow this to happen to us–what ever happened to FREEDOM?

      • Daniel

        Freedom is different in other countries,as far as I can see americans are all about their freedom,which in some ways there is not that much, because the US is a very control freak country.
        The US controls every single thing in the country,regardless of the president,people disclose all kinds of info on social networks and then they talk about their freedom. When somebody says something about a national ID or the SS# americans freak out without thinking about how much their names,address and personal info are moved around.
        The freedom in the US is great,please don’t take me the wrong way,but people are kind of brainwashed.

      • jsweetser2

        You have the freedom to not use Google services.

      • jack

        hahah, then don’t use google! duh

        • Jack is Ghey

          jack, hahah? is it really that funny? do you ride the short bus to school. hahah.

  • Chahk

    Thank goodness for open-source OS like Android, where all this creepiness can be stripped out in a custom ROM. I’d be a lot more worried if it was Apple filing those patents.

    • Fahad

      Why would you worry if Apple was doing this? Either way it’s wrong, this is terrifying enough to make me switch camps =/ and i never ever thought I would say that…

    • SGB101

      if they do this, it will take the shine of the nexus range (and all the rest), as first job would be a re flash.

      i cant see this happening anytime soon, the first co. to do this will have a PR nightmare. but i have no doubt it will happen.

    • sunrise

      Your comment honestly didn’t make any sense in terms of the conversation about Google tracking you. ANDROID IS GOOGLE.

      Yes, there is a benefit to Android, such as making custom ROM’s that remove spy software like carrierIQ.

      However, if the SPY is Google’s Android itself, you can’t remove it. When you use an Android phone and activate your Android device with Google, use Gmail, use Google Voice, Google Talk, Google Maps/Nav, etc….all that is being cataloged by Google. That is the point of this article.

      Every message you have ever sent on Google talk, every voicemail and text message on Google Voice is saved, every Google Voice Action search you do… your actual voice search is saved and cataloged on Google servers.

      If you press the Google Voice Actions search button on your phone and say “find the nearest gas station.” Your voice saying that command is saved and cataloged by Google.

      Now can you please tell me, how running Android will prevent Google from doing all that, when Android is Google?

  • this guy

    ok this i dont like. i dont mind the ads in games but this is crossing the line. i do not want ads while im on the phone with someone

    • Joel

      Seriously. Whats next? Scanning the words in our text messages?
      Thats not the way Google, Take a lesson from what happened with the ‘Sprint ID’ nonsense – People do not want ANYTHING listening/recording/monitoring/scanning their phone calls.

      Theyre lucky they get away with so many apps tracking location, dont push it.

      • Joel

        Scratch, not Sprint ID – I meant ‘Carrier IQ’

  • nolageek

    Where are you getting that from? “Advertising based on environmental conditions.” sounds to me like they’ll use my GPS data or something to show ads on the browser. Not that they’re going to be listening in on my calls? How would they know that the rain isn’t at my mother’s place 3000 miles away?

    Paranoid much? Must be a slow news day.

    • Duke

      Because the sound of rain is only in the earpiece and not in the mic. That’s not rocketscience.

  • josh

    I hope these DO NOT actually find their way into google products or services, because I’d have to pull the plug on any services that used them.

    • kzlife


  • http://None Javier Bastardo

    This just reminded me of a video by The Onion: New Google Phone Service Whispers Targeted Ads Directly Into Users’ Ears

    I love Google, their services and overall feel of the company, and I know they need ads, but c’mon. This is plain privacy violation, be it by listening to calls, following where I’m at, reading my messages or emails.

  • kwills88

    As much as I love google, they’ll always be an Ads first, tech later, company.

  • Trinhbo

    This is very creepy if any of it came to fruition. I don’t trust my photos being sent automatically to some server to be analyzed. They can *say* that the photos are just analyzed and not saved but remember how the TSA promised us that those controversial near nude body scan images could not be saved? I’ve heard that line before.

  • Lane Chapman

    I think this is going to be used for the CIA. So if I’m at a coffee shop and they hear a government employee dropping the secrets on nuclear testing to a spy, they can track my call and assassinate the culprits!

    Just kidding, but this patent really does creep me out…

    • The_CIA

      Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll be contacting Google about this shortly.

  • Gr8Ray

    Hurray! Nice to see they’re working hard on delivering new features the users want.

  • AbusedTortoise

    I love this! I like how Google is better tailoring ads to me, if i am driving down the freeway and my phone pulls up an ad for Wendy’s and gives me a coupon and directions i will take it. If google hears me looking for new tires for my car and sends me info on local tire stores and the deals they have offered it will make my life easier, quicker, and i will go through it more informed.

    • Burnd

      You should know in reality they wouldn’t give you a clear overview of all stores, prices and quality. The company paying the most will get to show you their ads and I guarantee you’ll be bothered by it. :p Thank goodness there are customizable roms out there.

  • Angel

    I think if fair is fair then customers should be able to “analyze” googles bank account… you know, everyone here can “test” googles money and “analyze” to see if it works properly or not. Hows that for analyzing something? You have to draw the line somewhere, and google looks like they want to now cross it. Lets make this easy on both of us google, here’s a heads up – I don’t click on ANY of your ads. Therefore, you don’t need to know anything about my phone usage that you don’t already know. Problem solved.

  • Warden Chinbach

    This is great. More privacy paranoia is exactly what Google needs right now. Google has always been very reputable when it comes to privacy, minus the Buzz fiasco and the wifi sniffing accident. If anything like this ever happens, it will almost certainly be opt in and will clearly explain what it is. If not, then Ill reconsider my stance.

  • spazby


  • Bon

    I am sure it would be with “your permission”.
    If I am going to get get some sort of ads anyways they might as well be something I would be interested in.

  • Max.Steel

    LOOOOOL!! That video is EFFING hilarious. LOL @ Long John Silvers @ 1:37 and the “Y-Phone coming out in 3-4 years”. Anyway, this is creepy and if it goes through, I would deactivate my Google account without a thought.

  • Jesse Moreno

    This is the first time I have ever considered opting out of any Google service. I honestly don’t mind the data gathering (an internet tailored to my likings? uh yes please!), but if it does get in the way of my every day life then I’ll probably just opt out and be on my way.

  • Oskar Wismierski

    This is crazy! I’m already fed up with the adds we get.. and it’s only getting worse..

  • Dr.Carpy

    Yeah, this is a little too 1984, for my tastes. I figured George Orwell would’ve filed for this patent before Google. This idea is way too invasive!

  • aranea

    This sounds very very big brother creepy. Because they don’t even need you be talking on the phone to listen to your environment. After this article, I’m already questioning google goggles ability to scan any picture I take.

    Plus here is a scary scenario that reminded me of a real case related to Target: Think about seeing birth control pills on your daughter’s phone.

    (In Target’s case, they follow purchases of their customers and they can predict if she’s pregnant and the birth date. They send some ads for baby products to a 16-year old girl. The girl’s father complains and gets an apology from the manager. He later goes back to the store and apologizes because she actually turns out to be pregnant. I heard this story on Freakanomics podcast.)

    • OnIn2

      I read the same story about Target.

      This is waaay creepy. Listen to my calls, plot where I am GPS, analyze my pictures.

      NO THANKS. My cell is a want not a need.

  • JhonnyQ

    Hey! It’s a computer program who doesn’t really care about who you are so, dont worry, It’s OK and definetly NOT creepy!…

    Aaaanyway… What I really wonder is, how much longer will it take to companys realize the increasing percentage of people simply avoiding adverstiments. Personally, I dont care how much “personalized” are the advertisments thrown up to me, I know they’re advertisments, therefore I ignore them. As far as I know, this attitude is increasing in the general home user, and at some point, the majority may be very much immune to advertisments. So, what will happen when enough people ignore them?… A new form of publicity? Or the so many free-with-ads-supported-stuff will stop being free and start charging?

  • Kevin

    What’s so terrifying about it? Don’t do anything wrong, and you’ll be fine.

  • redman618

    So what would you say if they offered to subsidize the phone CONPLTELY ONCE A YEAR and offered a discounted cell plan, ex.: heavy data, light minutes? They would get my attention. Like a previous commenter said, i ignore 3 out of 4 ads anyways. Also if your on Facebook your info is all out there anyways, or your that guy that has to yell so everyone hears your conversation anyways.

  • dcds

    Call me when that’s done. Besides, by lookimg at the wording, I’m still not so sure they would be hearing at the phone calls.

    Did it happen to you guys that they could monitor it when you’re not making calls? they deliberately choose the words “environment noise”, not calls or voice. And probably with consent, like what they do already with Android location.

    Of course, we’re all guessing, hence the call me when it’s done…

    Concern yes and always, but with reason.

  • Eric Weiss

    The patent does not say it would listen during phone calls. It says it would use the microphone passively “for sensing ambient noise” and along with other sensors (light, temperature, etc.) try to figure out location. The only time “phone call” is even mentioned is when it describes what a microphone is.

    Furthermore the patent also includes descriptions of allowing the user to turn off all or some of the sensors.

    It’s pretty clever. They describe how they would get advertisers on board (102 refers to the designation for an ad unit and 104 is the designation for the user): “For example, a seller of noise canceling headphones may specify that an ad 102 for noise canceling headphones be served to a user 104 located in an environment where the ambient noise is above a preset level (e.g., 70 dB). The advertiser may specify that the ambient noise level be above the preset level for more than a preset period of time (e.g., noisy levels detected for at least one hour per day for at least two consecutive days).”

    • Geraldo Riviera

      Furthermore, Google would be unable to get a patent for listening to the important part of phone calls as I’m sure there’s major amounts of prior art for that sort of thing.

  • kmm

    i cant see whats wrong with personalized advertising yeah sure i dont want them to tap in to my phone calls but i cant see whats wrong with them finding ads based on environmental conditions like pictures… hell I even upload some pic’s to Facebook which is much worse… but off curs if it comes it should be able to turn off

  • NT_

    How about: no.

  • Tony

    I don’t quite understand why everyone is up in arms about this.

    The US Gov’t listens in to, and records all of your phone calls all the time anyway. Google wants to use this for advertisements, who knows what homeland security is using the data for.

    Please take off the tin foil hats.

    • Stella

      So true, thanks to the Patriot Act.

  • OnIn2

    Some developer is going to get rich using encryption technology

  • Shawn Clark

    As long as it is optional to have that enabled or not im fine with it because i not with the idea and some others are so just to make everyone happy or attempt to…make that optional.

  • Bryan Stoner

    Alright this is kinda creepy. Background noise I’m fine with, unless it hears a baby crying and offers me a parenting book. But the photos?!?!?!? HELL NO!!!! What if I take a picture of my shlong. Are they going to offer me growth pills? I’ll pass.

  • Marx1684

    I usually roll w/Google but they are all kinds of wrong w/this one.

  • offthegrid

    this kind of BS will push everyone to Blackberry and ixquick. Google is already starting to loose grip on people with this greed. And that’s all it is. Greed.

  • nsnsmj

    This patent was applied for 4 years ago–not recently. I wouldn’t be too worried about this.

  • Stella

    This is nothing new. Companies have been doing this all the time. I worked for a call center, our job was to try to help the customer but also listen to what was going on in the background and what the customer says throughout the conversation to sell them products and services. When I made an offer, I put notes in the system if it was accepted or not. The customer will later be targeted with adverts though the mail or email.

    This practice even happens when you purchase items in a store like Target for example. You may start receiving offers in the mail for similar items or other items that they think is in your target group.

    It does blur the lines of privacy though. Is shopping truly private or talking on a phone? No.

  • awundrin

    This is going too far in my opinion but I am not surprised by it. Geez.

  • WlfHart

    If they make this a required opt in for Android I think I’d have to opt out of Android… All for innovation, but I’m more for my privacy.

  • honourbound68

    about a 1.5 ago, devs on my epic 4g forums started taking out carrier iq from the stock roms. they warned the users that ciq could track every single keystroke we made on our phones as well as every thing we did. SCARY!! if memory serves me right, it wasn’t til about 3 mos ago that ciq was finally made a big deal and sprint removed it from their software. i don’t think this will ever end. companies are here to make money and if they can get an edge, they will do it – invasion of privacy or not. I’m just glad that there are knowledgeable people out there that can figure out what’s happening, whether it be cookies in webpages, malicious coding etc. because the different ways we’re being spied upon are getting more and more complicated.
    maybe i’ll start using cash for all my purchases for now on….

  • Tridipta Ghosh

    This is really an excellent Blog ; and very informative information there – I’ve read. Really very useful all of them. I like them a lot. Hope – we’ll get more this type of information in future days. Thanks.

    For any kind of Web Designers Sydney – contact with me…

  • Kaote

    As much as I like Google and their products, I’ll have to say this is just to far reaching for me. I’d drop them in a heartbeat if this is allowed.

  • Tridipta Ghosh

    Internet is a Great source of knowledge & in this medium when we found ourselves in this type blogs where we can share ourvaluable thoughts – then it’s really very interestiong. I’ve read almost every posts here and it’s really amazing – and Ihope – I’ll get more this type of information in near future.

    Do you want to earn more than
    $100 / Day by doing
    some simple Online data entry Job??? If yes then Visit our Site and Start earning.

  • Aidan H.

    I understand and agree with the concerns, but what is the solution? How can we protect ourselves? Is there a way to avoid this kind of interception? The threat doesn’t only come from governments or big companies, there are spy apps for minimum price – anyone can gather confidental information from your smartphone..

  • kimberley

    GOOGLE TALK is the most unadulterated & legal SPYWARE ever put on the market. AND, the worst thing is, it AUTOMATICALLY loads upon turning the phone/tablet on, along with it reloading 3-4 times within a 1-2 hour period! PLUS: it is installed as a mandatory component within my/your android as Google Talk and just TALK. Therefore, there are 2 apps doing the same thing and I am constantly monitoring my running applications to make sure it’s turned off/stopped. To say I am DISGUSTED is an understatement. I think it’s an absolute crime that something MUST be done about!!