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PATENT DROP: Pinterest stalks your scroll
Plus: PayPal shrinks the chain; Zoom gets studious
Happy Monday and welcome to Patent Drop!
Today, tech from Pinterest to place ads more optimally; a filing from PayPal to make blockchain take up less space; and Zoom’s plan to make note-taking less of a hassle.
Let's take a peek
Pinterest takes an interest
Pinterest is on a mission to better understand its user base.
The company is seeking to patent a system for “context based advertisement prediction.” The technique uses AI to take into account a user’s activity holistically to better place ads within the context of its platform.
Pinterest’s system looks at a host of data, including: a user’s historical activity and profile data including demographic, subscriptions, purchase history and clickthrough history; the user’s current query; contextual information about content near where the advertisement would be placed; and the quality and positioning of the ad itself.
The system then feeds this information to deep neural networks to determine “relevance scores,” or predictions of how likely it is that a user will interact with the ad. This system also utilizes what it calls “cached content items” (ie, previous search results) to approximate where the ad would go in the context of the search, thereby mitigating latency issues.
For users, this presents as highly specific ads. But for the benefit of Pinterest (and the company’s advertisers), the performance of the presented ads are tracked, such as clickthrough and purchase rates. That feedback is then fed to the neural network to improve performance and accuracy continuously.
Pinterest says in its filing that irrelevant and “questionable” ads hurt the user experience, and “the ineffectiveness of advertisements can also be magnified if unrelated and/or irrelevant advertisements are presented relative to the non-advertisement content being presented.”
Pinterest has been working hard to monetize its platform. In April, Axios reported the company planned to invest in shopping tech, including adding computer vision, machine-learning, and AI tools to personalize shopping and track user behavior. The company also filed a patent application recently for a system that digs through users’ emails (with their permission, of course) to serve them better content.
Making ads more relevant could considerably help the company in its shopping ambitions, said Lauren Tierney, investor at venture and digital asset fund Decasonic. “What we know is that AI leads to personalization,” she noted. “The more relevant and personalized our ads are, the context there is around our ads, the more engaged we're going to be.”
Tierney gave the example of TV ads versus social media ads. Most people don’t want to stick around to watch the commercials, as they’re not personalized to the user. But utilizing user data, especially on a visually focused platform like Pinterest, “They're serving ads that actually enrich your experience in the app versus taking away from it,” Tierney said.
Pinterest reported an uptick in sales in its earnings report earlier this month, with CEO Bill Ready telling investors that the company “continued to build momentum with consumers and advertisers while further accelerating our pace of innovation.” Yet the company’s expenses grew faster than its revenue. Getting AI-based tools in place for shopping and ads could buoy the company during a time when the digital ad business is dragging, said Tierney.
While tech like this helps any company that relies on digital ads to make money, contextual advertising isn’t exactly new, said Dan Ratner, CEO at branding agency uberbrand. Context is a key tool that advertisers use to get the most bang for their buck, he said. Other companies like Meta and Shopify have filed to patent similar tools, and many other companies are likely using AI to gain as much insight on their customers as possible, said Ratner.
“I'm surprised this hasn't been patented already,” said Ratner. “I don't see it as being particularly unique. I can’t see in what way it’s different to what is already being experienced on Pinterest or any other social media platform.”
Whether or not this tech is actually patentable, gaining deep understanding of user habits to place content more optimally is likely a key component of Pinterest’s plan to make, in the words of Ready in February, “every pin shoppable.”
PayPal squeezes the chain
PayPal wants to fit all of its blockchain into a carry-on and a personal item.
The company is seeking to patent a system for “blockchain data compression and storage.” As the name implies, this system compresses a blockchain’s blocks to make it easier to store.
“Over time, the storage needs of a blockchain continue to grow and grow as more transactions are verified by the network nodes and added as blocks to the blockchain,” PayPal said in the filing. “As such, the blockchain becomes very storage intensive and more difficult to maintain.”
Here’s how it works: The system compresses a block of the blockchain once it satisfies a certain threshold in size. Because blockchain is an immutable record of transactions, each block grows larger with every trade or transaction, as all of that historical data is kept. The compressed block is then stored with a data storage service provider.
In place of the original block, the system generates what PayPal calls a “new era genesis block.” That block contains an address to where the original block is held, as well as the “root hash value,” or a digital footprint verifying the authenticity and contents of the original block. PayPal noted that this method can help “reduce network costs of transmitting and distributing a large blockchain.”
It’s a bit like a debit card: you don’t carry around all of your cash with you. It’s stored at a bank (the storage provider), and you access it with a card (the new era genesis block).
PayPal is no stranger to blockchain tech. The company has filed to patent a number of blockchain-related inventions, including a blockchain-based security system and a carbon neutral blockchain protocol. The company also offers ways to buy, transfer and sell certain cryptocurrencies within its app, including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.
Most recently, the company rolled out its first stablecoin PayPal USD, making it the first major financial company to do so. “The shift toward digital currencies requires a stable instrument that is both digitally native and easily connected to fiat currency like the US dollar,” PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said in a press release.
However, as blockchain generally evolves, “there is a problem in terms of the large amounts of data that is on blockchain and the limitations of block size,” said Aaron Rafferty, co-founder of StandardDAO. And as PayPal continues to integrate blockchain technology – especially with the launch of PayPal USD – finding ways to manage that data storage is crucial.
While solutions to this data storage problem do exist within blockchain tech – Rafferty called them “layer-two solutions” – they’re often quite difficult to implement on the user end, he noted, making them less approachable to someone who may be just starting out.
But given that PayPal is a widely used fintech platform that likely wouldn’t put out an unapproachable user interface, Rafferty said the company’s use of this technology would probably be far more consumer-friendly than what’s currently out there.
“Current layer-twos in the blockchain world … are not really usable by regular people. You have to have a more complicated wallet, and that wallet interface is largely clunky,” said Rafferty. “(PayPal’s tech) would likely get better adoption on the institutional crowd and with the general population.”
Zoom takes note
Zoom wants to write down only the stuff you need to know.
The company is seeking to patent a system for “dynamic note generation” in a video call. The system isn't terribly complicated, but it allows a user to take notes on specific parts of meetings that are relevant to them.
“This process of note-taking during a communication session is often neither easy nor streamlined,” Zoom said in its filing. “Just a few seconds of … distraction can be costly when a student needs to absorb every moment of a lecture.”
Zoom details a few functions that this note-taking system has in store. For one, it will allow a user to capture “previous snippets” of a meeting’s content once a user clicks on a “UI element” that reads “Take a Note,” essentially enabling the user to access content they may have missed. For example, if a PowerPoint slide goes by too fast to take notes, this system would allow a user to capture that.
Along with saving clips from a meeting, a user can request that a note be generated for a specific clip. Users also can modify which clips they want notes for after the fact, annotate the generated notes, and slot notes into different categories, such as “observation,” “reference” or “action item.”
Zoom also said this feature could only be available to users depending on their “access levels,” meaning whether or not they have a premium-tier business account versus a free-tier user account. The company also noted that a machine learning model would be employed to automatically identify and flag problematic, illegal or inappropriate content.
While Zoom didn’t explicitly say this tech was backed by AI in its patent, using machine learning for a feature like this would be par for the course. The company already offers a meeting summary tool through Zoom IQ, its AI companion service. This tool gives a general summary at the end of the meeting, taking note of action items and sending it to authenticated people on the call, and the tech in this patent could hint at expanded functions to come.
One thing to consider: Zoom already offers several AI-based note-taking tools through its app and integration marketplace. Expanding on these tools could allow the company to corner the market by keeping them within its ecosystem.
Like other big tech companies, Zoom has turned up the heat on its AI work. Since Zoom IQ was introduced in March, the company also invested an undisclosed sum in AI startup Anthropic in May, and announced plans to integrate the startup’s chatbot across its platform. The company also announced a feature called Intelligent Director, which aims to use AI for better video quality in hybrid meetings, in late June. Plus, Zoom filed a patent application for improved AI training systems, giving a peek at how AI development is going within the company.
However, if you’ve seen the words “Zoom” and “AI” in headlines in recent weeks, the stories weren’t positive: The company got into major hot water from users and privacy advocates for an update to its terms of service that said it would use customer data for AI training. The company has since reversed this decision, with CEO Eric Yuan saying in a LinkedIn post “we had a process failure internally that we will fix.”
“We are committing to all of our customers that we will not use any of their audio, video, chat, screen sharing, attachments and other communications like poll results, whiteboard and reactions to train our AI models or third-party AI models,” Yuan said in the post.
Some other fun patents we wanted to share.
EA wants to make sure you’re playing fairly. The game developer wants to patent a system for “feedback oriented gameplay” that monitors for policy violations during sessions.
Sony wants to know you’re not daydreaming. The company filed to patent a system for meeting session control based on “attention determination.”
Google wants to make sure proper grammar doesn’t get lost in translation. The company wants to patent a system to find the “most suitable grammar suggestions” from a machine translation model.
What else is new?
Tesla blamed insider wrongdoing for a data breach that impacted more than 75,000 employees. The company said two former employees shared the data, which included addresses and social security numbers, to a German news outlet.
YouTube is working on a way to help artists and rights holders get paid for AI music with the launch of its Music AI Incubator. The company will work with Universal Music Group and other partners to develop an AI framework for the music industry.
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