Will Amazon Soon Spy On You Through Your Kindle?

We don't need to tell you how big an issue tracking software is. What we do need to tell you about is a new patent from Amazon that lays out its plan to track and predict your movements via mobile devices.

Made public last week, the patent describes a system that allows mobile devices — read Kindles, or a future Amazon phone — to track the geographical position of users, and then use that information to predict their likely next steps. The intention is then to use that information to better target ads, coupons, or other messages, that could appear either on the mobile device itself, or on big screens or other displays on the person's route.

Though the patent's not clear what data it would use to do all this, it could obviously use GPS, cell tower triangulation, or, to make it work with all Kindles, even wifi connections to spot location. That same data can then be used to estimate speed and direction of travel in order to predict future movements. The patent also describes how the predicted location would be used to take bids from third parties that want to send marketing messages. That's not a new concept in itself, but tied in with geographical targeting and digital snooping, it makes for a potent combination.

What's most interesting, though, is that in the patent Amazon don't seem particularly backward at coming forward: they already have a whole heap of applications they've thought of, and they're not afraid to share them. Their first suggestion echoes recent monitoring carried out in malls in the US around Thanksgiving:

[B]y analyzing the recent movements of a mobile device user among stores in a shopping mall, it may be determined that a particular store is a predicted next destination for the mobile device user. Thus, advertising content for the predicted destination, such as coupons, may be sent to the mobile device user.

But they're not stopping there. They're also keen to target other crowded locations:

[A] mobile device user may be tracked while attending a large entertainment venue or sporting event and coupons advertising a discount at a restaurant that the mobile device user is likely to visit based on the user's traffic or travel patterns at the entertainment venue or sporting event. Similarly, mobile device users attending a large venue may be tracked and provided coupons for vendors the mobile device users are likely to pass based on their recent travel patterns in and around the venue.

It's not hard to imagine Amazon striking up deals with retailers, malls and venues who have TVs and other displays dotted abut, in order to beam adverts right at you. Nor is it hard to imagine it working incredibly well: if I was at a bar at a sports game and received a promotional voucher on my phone or Kindle offering cheap tequila, then hell, I may well take it.

But should it be allowed to work in the first place? The fact that Carrier IQ's shit has hit the fan so hard clearly demonstrates that privacy is a big issue amongst consumers — and one they're not willing to be dictated to on. But if internet giants like Amazon bulldoze this kind of stuff through and make it work on the devices we all use, we might not have much choice in the matter. [United States Patent and Trademark Office via CBS News; Image: charbel.akhras]