Seemingly undeterred by the recent outrage over tech giants' abusing their access to personal privacy, a recent patent filed by Amazon with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has unveiled a new artificial intelligence system that could be embedded in an array of Amazon devices to analyze all audio in real time for specific words.
Amazon calls the technology “Keyword Determinations From Conversational Data,” otherwise known as a ‘voice sniffer algorithm,’ and this could be the next giant leap towards expanding mass home surveillance of consumers' private lives.
This pending patent application shows how Amazon could use consumers’ home data collected and stored on servers “to draw disturbing inferences about households, and how the company might use that data for financial gain,” said the Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group in Santa Monica, Calif.
“The more words they collect, the more the company gets to know you,” Daniel Burrus, a tech analyst with Burrus Research Associates, Inc., told ABC News. “They are building a personality profile on the user.”
Currently, Amazon devices operate in a “listening” mode only and can be activated via user commands, such as “Alexa” or “Hello Alexa.” As far as we know, Amazon devices do not record conversations, as they only listen to commands after the user initiates a trigger word.
However, within the foreseeable future, Amazon devices could record all conversations — even without a trigger word to wake up the device, along with creating a corporate profile of the end user for "commercial purposes."
Always on, Always listening.
The patent explains how the “voice sniffer algorithms” are designed to monitor certain keywords like, “prefer” and “bought,” or other words such as “hate” or “disliked,” and then the device can “capture adjacent audio that can be analyzed.”
According to the patent, ”the identified keywords can be stored and/or transmitted to an appropriate location accessible to entities such as advertisers or content providers who can use the keywords to attempt to select or customize the content that is likely relevant to the user,” reports ABC News.
ABC News does not mention, but we will throw this out there, government agencies could also acquire the data from Amazon.
Kiran Edara, a senior manager of software development at Amazon, who wrote the abstract for the patent, provides an easy to understand overview of it:
“Topics of potential interest to a user, useful for purposes such as targeted advertising and product recommendations, can be extracted from voice content produced by a user. A computing device can capture voice content, such as when a user speaks into or near the device. One or more sniffer algorithms or processes can attempt to identify trigger words in the voice content, which can indicate a level of interest of the user. For each identified potential trigger word, the device can capture adjacent audio that can be analyzed, on the device or remotely, to attempt to determine one or more keywords associated with that trigger word. The identified keywords can be stored and/or transmitted to an appropriate location accessible to entities such as advertisers or content providers who can use the keywords to attempt to select or customize content that is likely relevant to the user.”
Burrus told ABC News, Amazon could offer “personalized offers on products, encourage [a user] to take action, or better persuade someone to buy a product.”
ABC News said the pending patent could even offer your private data to “friends of the user for gift buying” purposes. Nevertheless, the patent is pending, and there could still be a chance the USPTO does not approve it.
“The patent has not yet been approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and tech companies often file hundreds, if not thousands of patents a year. However, not every patent is approved by the USPTO. Amazon was granted 1,963 patent applications in 2017, which was an 18 percent increase from the year before when they were awarded 1,672 patents, according to data from the USPTO analyzed by IFI Claims Patent Services, a company that provides patent data services.”
Daniel Ives, a tech analyst with GBH Insights, indicates Alexa’s intelligence would rapidly increase if the pending patent was to be implemented in devices, because the algorithms would have unlimited reign on a consumer’s personal life.
“This further builds on Alexa and more data intelligence and analysis through voice that is a major initiative for Amazon,” he said. “This algorithm would possibly feed from Alexa into the rest of the Amazon consumer flywheel, ultimately helping drive purchasing and buying behavior of Prime members.
The patent gives examples, including, “… in sentences such as ‘I love skiing’ or ‘I like to swim’ the words ‘like’ and ‘love’ could be examples [of] trigger words indicating a level of interest.”
Peter Kent, an e-commerce consultant and expert witness on internet technology patents, told ABC News:
However, the patent does say that “a user can have the option of activating or deactivating the sniffing or voice capture processes, for purposes such as privacy and data security,” and users must indicate a “willingness to have voice content analyzed” for the trigger-word algorithms to work. The patent may also allow video cameras on devices to “capture image information to attempt to determine which user is speaking.”
In a statement, an Amazon spokesman told ABC News the technology company takes the privacy of its customers “seriously.”
“We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our devices. We do not use customers’ voice recordings for targeted advertising,” the Amazon spokesman said in the statement. “Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology. Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.”
Ironic: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg said the same thing before getting caught doing the opposite.
So while Amazon's voice triggered devices offer some convenience, they also offer the corporate clients of Amazon unprecedented insight into the customers’ private lives, the same way when Facebook wins an ad contract, it is selling the client all of your personal information in the process. Meanwhile, unable to respond to this onslaught of in home eavesdropping, America finds itself in the latter stages of the disappearance of individual privacy.
And with tech giants symbiotically linked to the US government, the Fourth Amendment is almost null and void, which with the ongoing crackdown against the 1st and 2nd amendments, will assure that in just a few years the corporate takeover of the country - whose residents which have voluntarily ceded over their most sacred rights - will be complete.