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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

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
11 mins ago - Economy & Business

2021's expected earnings blowout begins

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First-quarter earnings so far have been very strong, outpacing even the rosy expectations from Wall Street and that's a trend that's expected to continue for all of 2021. S&P 500 companies are on pace for one of the best quarters of positive earnings surprises on record, according to FactSet.

Why it matters: The results show that not only has the earnings recession ended for U.S. companies, but firms are performing better than expected and the economy may be justifying all the hype.

11 mins ago - Science

NASA's Mars helicopter takes flight as first aircraft piloted on another planet

Ingenuity on the surface of Mars, filmed by NASA's Perseverance rover. Photo: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA successfully piloted the Ingenuity Mars helicopter for its first experimental flight on Monday, briefly hopping the aircraft as NASA's Perseverance rover collected data.

Why it matters: Ingenuity's short flight marks the first time a human-built aircraft has flown on a world other than Earth, opening the door to new means of exploring planets far from our own.

All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Healthcare workers getting COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

All 50 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have made U.S. adults over the age of 16 eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, meeting President Biden's April 19 deadline.

Why it matters: The landmark speaks to the increased pace of the national vaccination campaign, but will increase pressure on the federal government, states and pharmaceutical companies to provide adequate vaccine supply and logistics.