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A pair of Amazon Echo smart speakers. Photo: Joby Sessions / T3 Magazine via Getty Images

Amazon and Google, the leading sellers of digital assistants like Alexa, have each "filed patent applications that outline an array of possibilities for how devices like these could monitor more of what users say and do," the N.Y. Times reports.

Why it matters: "That information could then be used to identify a person’s desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations."

  • "In one set of patent applications, Amazon describes how a 'voice sniffer algorithm' could be used on an array of devices, like tablets and e-book readers, to analyze audio almost in real time when it hears words like 'love,' 'bought' or 'dislike.'"
  • "A diagram ... illustrated how a phone call between two friends could result in one receiving an offer for the San Diego Zoo and the other seeing an ad for a Wine of the Month Club membership."
  • Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group: “When you read parts of the applications, it’s really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers.”
  • What's next: "The Electronic Privacy Information Center has recommended more robust disclosure rules for internet-connected devices, including an 'algorithmic transparency requirement' that would help people understand how their data was being used and what automated decisions were then being made about them."

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”