Thursday, April 12, 2018

Very Creepy Google and Amazon Patents (AMZN; GOOG)

I can't vouch for the accuracy of this list but it's too good to check.
Just kidding, the writer provides footnotes and links to sources.
And it really is creepy as hell.

Google, Amazon Patent Filings Reveal Digital Home Assistant Privacy Problems
Executive Summary
A new study reveals that Amazon and Google have filed patent applications for a number of technologies that would dramatically expand surveillance of consumers’ private lives. These patent applications show how technology companies use home data to draw disturbing inferences about households, and how the companies might use that data for financial gain. The technologies detailed in the patent applications include:

• A system for deriving sentiments and behaviors from ambient speech, even when a user has not addressed the device with its “wakeword .” In 2014, as Amazon was preparing to roll out its Echo smart speaker, the company patented an algorithm that could listen to human speech, including phone conversations, for statements of interest such as “I love skiing.” (1) The algorithm would then process the state ments into key words that could be used to target advertising. The patent describes transmitting the keywords to Amazon servers as text, which could allow the company to spy on conversations while technically keeping its promise to only store and analyze a udio recordings that a user intends to share.

• Multiple systems for identifying speakers in a conversation and building interest profiles for each one. Both Google and Amazon offer users the option of creating acoustic “voice profiles” for voice - activated smart devices in their homes. (2) These profiles can help the devices tailor services to the person speaking. Patents show that both Amazon and Google could also use voice profiles to associate behaviors with individual members of the household, in order to better target ads. (3)

• A method for inferring users 'showering habits and targeting advertising based on that and other data. Dozens of patent applications for Google’s smart home devices detail scenarios in which Google may share data from smart home devices with third parties, including businesses, who can then use the data to make inferences about users’ sleeping, cooking, entertainment, and showering schedules. (4) These inferences, Google says, “may help third - parties benefit consumers by providing them with interesting information, products and services as well as with providing them with targeted advertisements.”

• A system for recommending products based on furnis hings observed by a smart home security camera. A particularly troubling patent application describes how Google could use video feeds from smart devices to determine users’ behaviors and characteristics, including “ gender, age, fashion - taste, style, mood, known languages, preferred activities, and so forth .” (5) The patent application describes smart devices that target advertisements based on the title of the book by a user’s bedside, the presence of a guitar or basketball in the room, and the face of a famous actor on a user’s t - shirt. 

Huge HT to privacy consultant Dylan Curran whose twitter feed has the abbreviated version.