Have you ever spoken about something in proximity to your phone or your virtual assistant, only to see an ad for that same product hours later? Coincidence, or a cause for concern?
Amazon recently filed a patent for “voice-sniffing”; a feature that lets the Echo, their virtual assistant launched in 2014, monitor your conversations for trigger words such as “like” and “love”, to learn about the owner’s interests.
As mentioned in the patent, it was filed because the searches a consumer makes do not always align with their own preferences, like when they are searching for gifts and as a result, ads may not always be suited to them. Amazon would be able to build a more accurate and comprehensive profile of the consumer using this data and provide more relevant ads.
Some people worry about, however, whether Amazon and other channels such as Facebook, have been doing this already.
Amazon maintains that they do not record conversations for target advertising. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg also said, during a recent US Congress hearing, that they don’t listen at all. The lines blur with the Echo, however, as they must listen to identify when owners say, “hey Alexa”. But is listening separate from recording?
A spokesperson said: “We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our Echo devices.”
"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." The patent also mentions that users can deactivate the voice sniffing feature or “voice capture processes”, supposedly adding a layer of privacy and security.
Whether you find it unsettling or a useful addition to the already intelligent Alexa, there’s no denying that the tech would radically improve ad personalisation and effectiveness. Brands and retailers will also profit from these developments which makes product data increasingly important.
Could voice capture be the next step in ad personalisation, or a step too far?