: No, your phone is not “listening” to you in the strictest sense of the word. But, yes, all your likes, dislikes and preferences are clearly being heard by apps in your phone which you oh-so-easily clicked “agree” to the terms of which while installing.
If you are in India, the answer to the question will lead you to Zapr, a service backed by heavyweights such as the Rupert Murdoch-led media group Star, Indian e-commerce leader Flipkart, Indian music streaming service Saavn, and mobile phone maker Micromax, among more than a dozen others. The company owning Zapr is named Red Brick Lane Marketing Solutions Pvt Ltd. (Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Sanjay Nath, co-founder and managing partner, Blume Ventures, were early investors in Zapr but are no longer so, according to filings with the ministry of corporate affairs. Sharma and Blume are among the investors in Sourcecode Media Pvt Ltd, which owns FactorDaily.)
Zapr, in fact, is one of the few companies in the world that has developed a solution that uses your mobile device’s microphone to recognise the media content you are watching or listening to in order to help brands and channels understand consumer media consumption. In short, it monitors sounds around you to contextualise you better for advertising and marketing targeting.
Advertisers globally spend some $650 billion annually and this cohort believes better profiling consumers by analysing their ambient sounds helps target advertising better. This group includes Chinese company ACRCloud, Audible Magic from the US, and the Netherlands’s Betagrid Media — and, Zapr from India.
Cut back to the Zapr headquarters on Old Madras Road in Bengaluru. One of the apps that inspired Zapr’s founding team was the popular music detection and identification app Shazam. But, its three co-founders saw opportunity in going further. “Instead of detecting music, can we detect all kinds of medium? Can we detect television? Can we detect movies in a theatre? Can we detect video on demand? Can we really build a profile for a user about their media consumption habits… and that really became the idea, the vision we wanted to solve for,” Sandipan Mondal, CEO of Zapr Media Labs, said in an interview last week on Thursday.
But, Zapr’s tech comes with privacy and data concerns – lots of it. The way its tech gets into your phone is dodgy: its code ride on third-party apps ranging from news apps to gaming apps to video streaming apps. You might be downloading Hotstar or a Dainik Jagran app or a Chotta Beem app on your phone little knowing that Zapr’s or an equivalent audio monitoring code sits on those apps to listen to sounds around you in an attempt to see what media content you are consuming.
None of these apps made it clear explicitly what the audio access via the microphone was for. “The problem with apps which embed this technology is that their presence is not outright disclosed and is difficult to find. Also, there is not an easy way to find out the apps in the PlayStore that have this tech embedded in them,” said Thejesh G N, an info-activist and the founder of DataMeet, a community of data scientists and open data enthusiasts.