Rebel Wilson substitutes for Alexa in the Super Bowl commercial, “Alexa Loses Her Voice.” Via Amazon

Patents Pending for Listening Algorithms in Digital Assistants

Both Amazon and Google have filed patent applications to monitor what you say to a digital assistant so they can mine the information to tailor ads for users and to recommend products, according to a story in The New York Times.

Amazon described its patent as a “voice sniffer algorithm” that analyzes audio for such words as  “love” and “bought.” The application mentioned how a phone call between friends could lead to offers such as a an ad for the “Wine of the Month Club.” The NYT story goes on to outline other aspects of Google’s patent, such as mention of the device noting searches on a celebrity⎯actor Will Smith⎯along with a device recognizing a t-shirt with Smith’s face on it on the floor of the user’s closet.

Despite assertions in the patent filings by both companies that user privacy would be paramount, accessing intimate details of a person’s life leads to serious questions about using those details, the NYT story makes clear.

“Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group in Santa Monica, which published a study of some of the patent applications in December, said, ‘When you read parts of the applications, it’s really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers.’ “

After Cambridge Analytica was exposed for having harvested data from 50 million Facebook users, Facebook abandoned its plans to introduce internet-connected home products in May, according to Bloomberg News. Focus-group testing showed consumers worried about having a Facebook-operated device in their living rooms. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is seeking better disclosure rules for internet-connected devices so that users will know how their information is being used.