(Quentyn Kennemer) We come across tons of interesting patents each and every day, but recently none have caused as much concern and curiosity as this one. Google recently filed a patent for a system that identifies when and where a “mob” event takes place and sends multimedia alerts to relevant parties. The patents are actually titled “Mob Source Phone Video Collaboration” and “Inferring Events Based On Mob Sourced Video“.
No… not that mob. In this case a “mob” is essentially an activity or event attracting an abnormal amount of attention in the form of video recording and picture taking. Here’s a quick blurb from the patent description:
Excerpt from US Patent #20140025755
“When there are at least a given number of video clips with similar time stamps and geolocation stamps uploaded to a repository, it is inferred that an event of interest has likely occurred, and a notification signal is transmitted (e.g., to a law enforcement agency, to a news organization, to a publisher of a periodical, to a public blog, etc.).”
The fact that “law enforcement agencies” and “news organization(s)” are the first two examples provided by Google themselves is our greatest cause for concern. Especially at a time when privacy issues seem to take center stage all too often in the worst way possible.
Much has been made about NSA snooping, privacy, FISA, civil liberties and much more over the past year, so to think Google filed this patent application with the idea of potentially and proactively feeding information to law enforcement is a bit unsettling.
We’ve already seen rudimentary examples of law enforcement using the public’s photos and videos to track down culprits. Look no further than the Boston Marathon bombing last year. The FBI used photos and video from attendees’ cell phones to help identify the parties responsible for that unfortunate event. With a system like this, they might not have had to procure the actual phones to get what they needed.
Would only photos/videos you uploaded as publicly viewable be included into this system? Could you opt out? Could Google access the private content stored on your local device for these purposes?
The exact details of this system – if put into practice – would likely be buried deep in a Terms of Service document. We’re guessing the most effective solution (for Google) would be collect aggregate and anonymous data to which you opted-in (time and location data of multimedia), extrapolating that data to identify “mob source” events, and then sharing related, publicly available multimedia to 3rd parties.
This could be used in any of the typical “nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd” scenario, from bar fights and car accidents to flash mobs and unpredictably Arandom occurrences.
With that said, it’s important to remember that this isn’t inherently negative or invasive . Imagine heading out to see your favorite band, taking a few pictures, and Google Now alerts you that there are 100 related photos and videos from other concert goers…