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PATENT DROP: PayPal listens in close
Plus: Google figures out what went wrong; Apple tracks your habits
Happy Thursday. Welcome back to Patent Drop!
Today, we’re checking out a recent patent from PayPal for tech that gets to know the unique sound of your voice. Plus, Google wants to track down what really causes a rainy day in the cloud; and Apple may be making its Home app track you a little closer.
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Anyways, let’s see what’s up.
#1. “This call may be recorded”
Watch your language, please, because PayPal may be listening a little more closely next time you yell at its customer service robots.
The company is seeking to patent a method for user enrollment in “voice biometric authentication.” Here’s how it works: If a user calls into PayPal’s customer service line and talks with (or yelps at) the “interactive voice response” instead of a live agent, this system will “non-intrusively collect voice data for a user” through high quality recordings of a users’ conversations.
After the call is completed, a user will receive an email, text or push notification from PayPal asking if they’d like to set up voice authentication with the “voiceprint” that was collected.
If the user opts in, then the recording is turned into their voiceprint. If they opt out, the enhanced-quality recording is either deleted or kept by PayPal (the company noted that the recordings would be stored along with the ones routinely recorded for training in customer call center scenarios).
PayPal said this voice authentication is then used as a form of identification the next time a user calls into a customer service center. The company claims this tech will save time and money by eliminating “any manual efforts in enrolling the user,” as well as circumvent the security blind spots of transitional passwords, phone authentication or security questions, which are “susceptible to exploitation” by bad actors.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, while the filing said PayPal’s voice authentication method would be used for identification in customer service calls, it also noted that the use cases for it aren’t limited. This kind of authentication may at some point show up as a regular part of logging into your account, just like a password or a facial scan.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen PayPal take an interest in your voice. The company enabled Siri-based payment capabilities back in 2016. But PayPal’s patent seemingly involves far more data collection on the company’s part than a Siri voice payment, calling attention to tech’s never-ending convenience versus privacy conundrum.
This system implies that PayPal would collect high-quality recordings of your voice when you call into PayPal’s customer service line. While that alone may make some users wary, most customer service lines, as already noted, record conversations for quality or training reasons (as we are informed by unfailingly chirpy robotic recording at the outset of each excruciatingly long wait for a human to mostly not answer our questions). PayPal, meanwhile, is putting this data to use for user experience.
Plus, a recent PayPal filing shows that it’s interested in keeping its collection of personal unstructured data to a minimum by “masking” sensitive information within files. The filing notes that its plan for voice recordings is to replace personal information with undecipherable noises. Taken together, PayPal may have a means of creating these voiceprints without also holding onto personal user recordings.
As for security itself, biometric authentication is generally safer than using just a password and hoping for the best. Biometrics like facial scanning, gesture matching, and fingerprints are far harder to fake.
But it’s not impossible. The age of AI has birthed voice cloning tools capable of forging anything from Drake songs to ransom calls and bank conversations. If PayPal ever does plan to debut this offering, it needs to have a plan in place for deep fakes.
#2. Google’s cloud investigator
You probably won’t miss having to create a ticket to have your IT department tend to your urgent computer problem whenever they can get around to it.
Google is seeking to patent a cloud network “failure auto-correlator.” Basically, this tech automatically detects what leads to a failure or breakdown in a cloud network by finding the “root cause of errors,” aiming to solve fundamental problems themselves rather than their symptoms.
Essentially, Google’s system kicks into gear when it receives one or more “triggers for analysis,” meaning a notification that something, somewhere has broken down. The system then compares what’s broken down to any recent “configuration changes” within the network, using a machine learning model for analysis. When the root cause of the issue is determined, the system evaluates it to make sure that the machine learning model’s prediction is accurate.
If you’re confused, think of it like this: Say you’re working from home and notice that your laptop has significantly slowed down in the last hour. Rather than closing out all of the tabs, going through every open program, or even using the old fashion “turn it off and on again” method, you’d use deductive reasoning to figure out what you did differently on your device just in the past hour or so. Google’s system does that on a much larger scale.
“Troubleshooting misconfigurations is manually intensive for end users or network administrators, particularly when changing the configuration file,” the company noted in its filing. “In addition, a brute force or near brute force approach to analysis of every change and every aspect of the network … is computationally impossible or otherwise infeasible.”
Google’s patent could solve a problem that has long given IT departments’ a bad reputation: easily detecting a problem’s point of origin in a cloud network, Trevor Morgan, VP of product at OpenDrives, told me. And given the sheer amount of things that can go wrong, offering an efficient way to identify the issue so it doesn’t recur is key to “ultimately ensuring a good user experience.”
“If it happens again and again, your end-user gets very frustrated, and you ultimately may have abandonment,” said Morgan.
Google is considered one of the Big Three in cloud computing along with Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. But its market share still lags far behind competitors. AWS remains on top, controlling 32% of the market, with Azure sitting at 23% and Google at 10% in the first quarter. Google, however, is making big strides in terms of growth, seeing cloud revenue grow 28% in the quarter while Amazon and Microsoft sat at 16%.
If this patent is any indicator, Google may want to use its prowess with user-friendly design to set itself apart from the competition, said Morgan. While AWS has a massive diversity of services, Google has a “known focus on the user experience” seen in its Android development and search capabilities, said Morgan, so making its platform the easiest to use among competition could be the best way for it to put up a fight.
“AWS is kind of the industry mainstay – I kind of think of (Google Cloud) as either the L.A. or Chicago of cloud platforms, whereas AWS is New York,” said Morgan. “Anybody who watches the market realizes that Google is going to have to rely on what they're good at.”
Clarification: This piece was updated to reflect Trevor Morgan’s title with OpenDrives.
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3. Apple’s cult of trust
Apple wants to get to know your habits really, really well.
The company wants to patent tech to use “in-home location awareness.” Essentially, using a mobile device this tech monitors your movements to get to know your home, and identifies “accessory devices” associated with certain rooms, such as lights, thermostats, garage doors, fans, and kitchen appliances. Once determined, all of these devices are clustered into one application (FYI, the Home app is something Apple already offers).
Once an action is performed repeatedly, such as turning on the kitchen lights every day at 6 p.m., Apple's system uses machine learning to take it upon itself to do them “without requiring user input to identify and access the accessory device.” When actions happen together at a certain time of day, Apple’s system notes this and does them automatically, which it refers to as creating a “scene.”
A “good morning” scene, for example, may involve opening the blinds and adjusting the thermostat. Apple noted that a user may not have to set up these scenes, as they are “automatically suggested,” using location and user activity history to make predictions with machine learning.
“Users often perform the same or repeated actions with accessory devices while in a particular location,” Apple said in its filing. “Certain activities with respect to devices in a home may be performed regularly and repeatedly. This can be a time consuming and tedious task for a user.”
Apple has mastered the art of user tracking. Along with its developing Home app, The company is king of health tracking, with the Apple Watch being a staple of the smartwatch market, as well as potential new devices and features we’ve seen in its patent activity, from health tracking AirPods to blood pressure cuffs to Apple-branded scales.
While this kind of monitoring may make some uneasy, Romeo Alvarez, director and research analyst at William O’Neil, said Apple has built up far more consumer confidence in privacy than other major tech firms, as many consumers are more likely to trust an Apple-branded device for personal tracking over other companies.
“Privacy is a big issue for consumers – I think that would be reason number one for consumers selecting an Apple product for devices around the home” said Alvarez. “If you think about all the large tech companies, whether we're talking Facebook, Google, or Apple, I think Apple would be the one consumers would trust the most in terms of personal data and location.”
Along with this trust, Apple has amassed strong brand loyalty among its customer base, Alvarez said, with many people purchasing the company’s suite of products to stay within the ecosystem.
Both these factors combined, it wouldn’t be surprising if its home device development expanded, said Alvarez. Apple has the free range to develop and produce pretty much any kind of home device within reason, without fear of consumer backlash or abandonment. While the company offers a range of interconnected home devices with partner businesses, Alvarez noted that Apple has tended to integrate its own in-house versions of a product into its line after first partnering with other companies.
“It’s a large opportunity for the company. Apple is very good at coming out with products that you didn't even know you needed,” said Alvarez. “Beyond just the watch or the smart speaker … I can see them entering the home and it being a very successful category for them.”
Some other fun patents we wanted to share.
Should you even be here? Zoom wants to make sure. The company wants to patent a method for verifying the identities of conference participants using “guest identifiers” such as emails or account information, likely as a way to prevent Zoom bombing.
Salesforce wants to help you see more Slack reactions. The company is seeking to patent the ability to search for reaction emojis on a communication platform – most likely Slack, its subsidiary.
Google wants to pick a side. The company wants to patent a smart home device that essentially decides who to listen to in the event that multiple people are yelling at it at once.
What else is new?
Meta unveiled it’s latest Quest 3 headset, which comes with a price tag of $500, is 40% thinner than the previous models and offers “high-res color mixed reality.”
Amazon will pay more than $30 million to settle claims that it’s Ring doorbells and Alexa voice assistants violated user privacy. Separately, more than 2,000 Amazon workers held a walk-out yesterday over “lack of trust in company leadership’s decision making.”
Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, claims that the company “did not have a systemic issue with harassment — ever,” attempting to shift blame to the “very aggressive labor movement” within the company.