Ford Hands You the Mic

Ford wants to listen to your carpool karaoke.

Photo by Jessy Smith on Unsplash

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What you scream at that truck that just cut you off during rush hour should stay between you and your car. 

Ford is seeking to patent a system for “anonymizing speech data” that’s collected by a voice recognition system in a vehicle. This system removes “speaker-identifying characteristics” from speech data collected from in-car voice commands. It then uses machine learning to generate a “random vector,” or randomized data in place of the previously identifiable characteristics, to apply to the speech data. 

Essentially, the manufacturer’s system obfuscates personally identifiable information that may be used when giving commands, replacing it with a random, unidentifiable sampling of speech data. Ford noted that the data becomes anonymous while still preserving non-identifiable characteristics, such as content, tempo, volume, pitch and accent. 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

While Ford may be keeping your road rage anonymous, the company may also want to use your voice to sell you stuff. The company filed a patent application for a system for “providing targeted content to users.” 

The method uses location data, audio data and other sensor data to recommend a “product, service or entity” based on a user’s intent, such as when they speak a command to an in-car digital assistant. 

Think of it like search engine ads for your car: When you search for or ask something, targeted ads generally float to the very top if they’re related to the query. Ford is doing the same thing, just surfacing those targeted ads in its vehicles. For example, if you ask your car’s digital assistant to take you to a gas station, it may pull up options to direct you to gas station chains that have paid to rank higher.

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Ford’s patent activity has shown that it wants to pack its vehicles with features. The company files to patent tons of new and inventive features practically every week, seeking to lock down everything from biometric eye scanners to EV charging reservation system to a vehicle curfew enforcement feature. Adding systems that both keep your personal data safe and use that data to give you recommendations as you drive just adds to its ever-growing pile. 

But as Ford continues growing its EV footprint — with plans to make half of the vehicles it sells electric by 2030 — additional features that rely on close user tracking could be part of its plan to compete with the EV whale that is Tesla. The industry leader’s vehicles are commonly known to be packed with features that you wouldn’t think to add into a car, and often use internal sensors for rider tracking purposes. (Check out our recent edition on Tesla’s patent for physical user tracking for a deep dive into that can of worms.) 

The second patent in particular also opens up a new potential revenue stream for Ford: digital advertising within its GPS system. 

Advertisement within mapping can be a lucrative bet. For example, while Google doesn’t break out how much its Google Maps ads make specifically, the service has hundreds of millions of monthly active users. Apple has also reportedly considered adding advertisements into its own mapping app last year. By adding in digital ads into its own proprietary systems, Ford could stand to make some extra money off the user data it’s collecting. 

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