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Google wants to listen to everything you do, so it can deliver nicer ads. Creepy? Naaah...

March 24, 2012
Google patent

One of the more fascinating aspects about the movie Minority Report (2002) (apart from the futuristic cars and inner city road system) was how billboard advertisements did a retina scan of passers by and tailored the ad to suit the watcher’s requirements. The movie takes place in the year 2054 A.D., but with Google’s latest patent application, we may be closer to this future than most would think.

The patent is titled “Advertising based on environmental conditions.” A short summary of the patent: information about the environmental conditions of a remote device is received, then an advertisement is identified based on the environmental conditions and is provided to the remote device.

The filling goes on to describe a system that allows advertisers to target online ads based on environmental factors detected on the end user’s devices. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to ambient noise, movement, temperature, humidity, light, sound,  and air composition, which are picked up by sensors on the device. A simple example of this is, say, when you are at a location with a temperature above 90F, you will likely receive an ad about the closest store selling air-conditioners. And this example is just a basic application of how this concept can be applied.

The applications of the patent are not limited to phone-based advertising only. They can go as far as to determine environmental conditions from a user’s remote device, such as a phone, and post advertisements on other nearby “digital billboards” such as a tablet, screen, or vending machine. Yeah, pretty much what we’ve seen in Minority Report, minus the retina scan. But who knows?

Google states that usefulness of this system is two-pronged. One, advertisers could create specific advertisements to suit only certain types of users, locations, or environments. Second, users would receive more relevant and accurate advertising according to their needs.

With privacy advocates having a field day with Google’s email client, Gmail, providing contextual advertising based merely on “scanning your messages”, this patent filing, with procedures that are far more invasive, will likely leave the same people in a tizzy.

While being exposed to more relevant, accurate, and personalized ads sounds like an advantage, whether it will be enough for users to ignore the huge privacy concerns is yet to be seen.

Till then, rather than the user-specific ads (as shown in the movie), can we just have the Lexus Concept Car instead?