New Patent Heightens Privacy Concerns

By on November 27, 2018

November 27, 2018

As of this month Amazon has a patent that arms Alexa with a voice analyzer capable of revealing characteristics such as emotional state, ethnicity and age, based on accent. Combined with already functional properties that determine location, browser setting, etc., it sharpens Amazon’s surveillance powers, and introduces new civil rights concerns around privacy. Unlike facial recognition, voice analysis relies on microphones inside smart speakers in homes. It raises issues around advertising that targets or excludes certain groups of people based on derived characteristics like nationality and native language, and opens new avenues of cooperation between Amazon and various government agencies. According to the ACLU, existing laws aren’t capable of protecting users from new categories of data collection. A surveillance and cybersecurity lawyer at the ACLU suggested that Amazon’s accent data could provide information for the purpose of immigration control. Since a user could be identified as belonging to a religious or ethnic group, investigating agencies like the FBI could compel production of such data to determine a user’s possible membership in a terrorist group.
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The Intercept

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