Amazon has patented the ‘voice-sniffing’ technology. The technology has the potential to undermine yet another form of biometric authentication.
Amazon is an American electronic commerce and cloud computing company established in 1994. It is based in Seattle, Washington and was founded by Jeff Bezos. The company is the largest Internet retailer in the world in terms of revenue and market capitalization and second largest after Alibaba Group in terms of total sales. Initially, the amazon.com website started as an online bookstore and later diversified to sell video downloads/streaming, audiobook downloads/streaming, software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, toys, and jewelry. The company also produces consumer electronics—Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, Fire TV, and Echo—and is the world's largest provider of cloud infrastructure services (IaaS and PaaS).
Amazon has separate retail websites for different countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, India, and Mexico. In 2016, Dutch, Polish, and Turkish language versions of the German Amazon website were also launched. Amazon also offers international shipping of some of its products to certain other countries.
Voice recognition is the identification of a person from characteristics of voices (voice biometrics). Recognizing the speaker simplifies the task of translating speech in systems that have been trained on a specific person's voices or it can be used to authenticate or verify the identity of a speaker as part of a security process.
Historically, voice recognition dates back four decades and uses the acoustic features of speech that have been found to differ between individuals. These acoustic patterns reflect both anatomy and learned behavioral patterns.
The competition in developing smart speakers between major market players such as Amazon and Google has become a constant back and forth. In April 2017, Google Home introduced the ability to recognize individual voices, allowing devices to personalize its response for everyone within a household. In October, Amazon announced that its cloud-based voice service Alexa featured the same services.
Amazon stated that it does not listen in on customers' conversations to target advertising at them, after it announced that it had patented the "voice-sniffing" technology. The patent describes listening to conversations and building a profile of likes and dislikes of customers.
It is speculated that Amazon may deploy the technology in its voice-activated Echo speakers. However, Amazon confirmed that it does not eavesdrop on customer conversations to target advertising.
The patent describes an algorithm that has the ability to listen to entire conversations, using "trigger words," such as like and love, to profile its customers. The document explains that the system could offer "targeted advertising and product recommendations."
In a statement, Amazon said: "We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our Echo devices."
Amazon’s Echo speakers were first launched in 2014 and plays music, sets a timer, and reads the news when addressed with the word "Alexa."
"Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology," the company added. "Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services."
One of the major concerns surrounding the development of such technologies is user privacy and data security as the technology functions on the ability to listen to entire conversations of customers to filter out their preferences. In the long-run, considering that Amazon will have a significant amount of personal data stored, there are impending dangers of a massive data leak, which could expose millions of data of customers. This could in turn lead to legal hassles for the company or even information protection disputes between countries.
Our assessment is that despite the development of new technologies, devices like the Amazon Alexa could result in negatively impacting society. It is believed that there are three human qualities that cannot be replaced by digital technologies: experience, values, and judgment. Will recent technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and quantum computing recreate the equivalent of human experience and behavior in a way that digital logic and classical physics cannot?
Additionally, we believe that Amazon’s filing of the patent for voice recognition could spark privacy concerns between corporations and regulatory bodies. However, though the patent has been filed, and its potential is clear, Amazon says that it has no plans at present to implement its capabilities in the near-term. We feel that exploration of such patents is likely a worrying development.