Google Android’s ‘Active Watching’ Patent Will Try To Photograph, Record, Identify Everyone In A Room

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
Font Size:

Android users may soon have an incredibly smart, useful and equally terrifying upgrade to their smartphones’ voice-search capabilities thanks to a new patent describing an “active watching” system, which records the voices, faces and even lip movement of everyone within range of the phone.

The Sept. 4 patent titled “detecting the end of a user question” takes advantage of Android third-party devices’ abilities like multi-microphone detection, which is intended to filter out background voices when listening to a user enter a voice command. Under the new patent, that system could be used to do the exact opposite, capturing audio from multiple subjects and their images thanks to a camera functionality intended to improve Google searches, Phandroid reports.

“[T]he visual analyzer may determine the number of people in an area represented by the visual data, the identity of the people, the vertical and horizontal angles of the heads of the people, and lip movement of the people,” the patent reads.

By combining the audio and video from the improved search functionality, Google could “determine the identity of the person providing the voice input based on the lip movement of people and the acoustic characteristics of the voice.”

“[T]he system may analyze audio and visual data and store information in a user profile…”

That implies the “active watching” system isn’t just improving the ability of users to execute a successful search for whatever they’re looking for — the system is simultaneously recording and storing the visual and voice data of everyone else around, and, upon identifying them, designates their data into separate user profiles.

In the patent Google describes how it would store and use data related to users’ “social networks, social actions or activities, profession, user preferences” and “current location.”

Further in Google says it “may” allow users an “opportunity” to opt-out of using the system, though it doesn’t seem to imply this is a guarantee.

“For situations in which the systems discussed here collect personal information about users, or may make use of personal information, the users may be provided with an opportunity to control whether programs or features collect personal information.”

The description is only in regard to a patent — not a rolled out and fully implemented program — meaning Google could take steps to address potential privacy concerns prior to deploying the system. Google’s history, however, doesn’t necessarily imply this would be the case.

In April, Google came under fire for an Android update that collects, analyses, stores and shares far more user data than its predecessors. (RELATED: Google’s Sneaky New Smartphone Update Collects WAY More Of Your Personal Data Than Ever Before)

The same mobile software was used to help Facebook deploy an update to its mandatory independent Messenger app last month, which collects similar information on users in bulk. (RELATED: Facebook’s New Messenger App Can Invade Your Privacy, But It’s Android’s Fault)

Google has even taken its user data collection from the virtual to the physical world with a system unveiled earlier this year, which tracks and matches the online ads users view with the purchases they make in a physical store. (RELATED: Google Can Now Follow You From The Computer To The Store)

Coupled with that are emails leaked earlier this summer between Google’s top execs and former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, which revealed a far cozier relationship between the Silicon Valley giant and the spy agency responsible for warrantlessly collecting bulk data Americans than either ever revealed in public. (RELATED: New Emails Reveal Cozy Relationship Between Google And NSA)

Follow Giuseppe on Twitter and Facebook