A team from Google Research has developed a prototype system that uses a home computer’s internal microphone to listen to the ambient audio in a room, determine what is being watched on TV and offer web-based supplemental information, services and shopping contextual to each program being watched.
The Google Research blog entry is innocuously titled ‘Interactive TV: Conference and Best Paper.’ When you read the actual paper submitted at the conference, you’ll find that it’s not a joke, and it is indeed scary.
I quote from the paper:
“The viewerâ€™s acoustic privacy is maintained by the irreversibility of the mapping from audio to summary statistics. Unlike the speech-enabled proactive agent by Hong et al. (2001), our approach will not â€œoverhearâ€ conversations. Furthermore, no one receiving (or intercepting) these statistics is able to eavesdrop, on such conversations, since the original audio does not leave the viewerâ€™s computer and the summary statistics are insufficient for reconstruction. Further, the system can easily be designed to use an explicit â€˜mute/un-muteâ€™ button, to give the viewer full control of when acoustic statistics are collected for transmission.”
Technically, they would be “listening” to the audio you’re consuming. “Trust us, we do no evil.” Maybe, but the power to do evil does seem to be growing.