Privacy Issues Surround Emerging Google Software
A software prototype that Google is developing will allow the company to listen in on the “ambient sound emitted from a TV,” in order to simultaneously send tailored information and advertising to your computer.
The new technology will gather background sounds, like those coming from shows on the TV, through a PC’s built-in microphone. The software breaks the audio sample into five second snippets, creating a digital fingerprint.
The fingerprint is matched to a similar one in a database, and then shows online content related to what it found. The personalized software could include advertising, search results, or a chat room on the subject.
Two research scientists on Google’s Research Blog explained the benefits of the software, saying, “The system could keep up with users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next.”
In a recent Technology Review article, Google’s director of research, Peter Norvig, said that the software will eventually show up in Google products. According to Google’s Research Blog, company researchers presented a paper detailing the software prototype at the Euro Interactive Television Conference (ITC), which took place in Athens this past June.
Due to issues of privacy invasion, it seems that civil liberties activists could have strong arguments against putting this technology into practice.
However, according to researchers, the fingerprinting technology in the prototype makes it impossible for the company to eavesdrop on other sounds in the room, such as personal conversations; the only personal information revealed, Google says, is TV-watching preferences.
"Some people did get the impression that we had an open microphone that was going to listen in on them. Clearly, that was not what we were doing. We are transmitting a key that can be matched but not reversed.” Norvig said, in the same Technology Review article.
According to their paper on the subject, which was presented at the Euro ITC, Google researchers contend that their goal is, “to combine the best of both worlds: integrating the relaxing and effortless experience of mass-media content with the interactive and personalized potential of the Web, providing mass personalization.”