Alexa, Where's My Privacy? Amazon Reportedly Developing Emotion-Detecting Wearables

Wednesday, 29 May 2019 - 12:15PM
Gadgets
Dystopias
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 - 12:15PM
Alexa, Where's My Privacy? Amazon Reportedly Developing Emotion-Detecting Wearables
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Adapted from Pixabay images
Color me hypervigilant, but I'm just a little skeptical when it comes to the benevolence touted by tech companies when it comes to devices, applications, or technology that purport to make my life easier by predicting my needs, analyzing my spending behaviors, tracking my whereabouts, or recording data about my physical health. It's not just that those data points are valuable to marketers, advertisers, and other breathless adherents to the Cult of Big Data that aren't giving me a cut of the profits, it's that I don't want corporations or governments embedding themselves in my every transaction, walk around the block, or trip to the gym. In a world where every other person seems to be demanding 15 minutes of fame, I'm still holding out for 15 minutes of anonymity.


Suffice it to say the announcement by Bloomberg News that Amazon is working on – and perhaps beta-testing – an emotion-detecting wearable device raised the bar for my skepticism. According to Bloomberg, who based the article on an anonymous source, "internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg," and two patents, the device – code-named Dylan – is a smart-phone compatible AI wearable equipped with microphones and software that analyzes a user's voice for emotional data. 


Bloomberg's source claims that the device is currently being tested, at least to some degree. "A beta testing program is underway," Bloomberg reports, "though it's unclear whether the trial includes prototype hardware, the emotion-detecting software or both."





Having previously reported on similar technology developed by a certain social media behemoth, I located one of the Amazon patents Bloomberg examined entitled "Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users" that can do exactly what Bloomberg claims Dylan can do... and more. 


At first glance, the patent seems relatively benign, intended to choose audio content based on a user's mood. The illustrations, however, paint a slightly different picture as to how such data might be used to suggest products for purchase.


The background section of the patent's description reads:


Opening quote
Users may consume audio content via a number of content consumption devices. Certain content consumption devices may be configured to receive voice-based commands, or may otherwise be configured to recognize speech. Voice input from users to such devices may reflect a physical or emotional characteristic of the user. Accordingly, determining a physical or emotional characteristic of a user using a voice input may be desired.
Closing quote




U.S. Patent Office via Google 

There's a certain kind of person who'll treat this as solely a novelty, as a step in the right direction for a consumer-friendly infrastructure built around commerce and technology rather than further corporate intrusion based on opacity, deception, and profit. Given Amazon's reluctance to discuss the matter with Bloomberg – they declined to comment – I'm inclined to regard this as the latter.
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