Google wants to monitor your social media

Plus Facebook music, Apple car phone holders, social search and other patents from Big Tech.

Google wants to monitor your social media

Microsoft's Surface patent.

Image: USPTO

The patents roundup is back! I took a week off to get the recent Protocol Manual on health care up and running, but now I'm back to show you all the bizarre patents that Big Tech has filed since we last connected. And thankfully, things are just as odd as when I left them: Microsoft wants to redesign how we get the news, Apple wants to make car phone holders, Google is still a fan of "The Simpsons," Facebook is into dad rock, and Amazon is thinking about big topics … like shopping baskets. It's good to be back.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.


More useful Google results

This patent explores how search results can be tailored to better reflect users' interests and find the information they're searching for more quickly. Using information from social media accounts, Google would be able to tell if a given person searching "apple" was more interested in the electronics company or the fruit. And if they're a fan of "The Simpsons" (as suggested by the wonderfully arcane screenshot included in the patent below), a search for "animation" would throw up images of Homer and Bart rather than random cartoons. I'm hoping Google implements this soon: As a lifelong fan of Chelsea FC, I would very much like Google to stop alerting me when Arsenal scores.


A fancier shopping basket

This patent isn't exactly world-breaking, but it's pretty neat. Amazon patented a design for a shopping basket that's essentially two baskets in one: a hard plastic basket like the ones you see at just about any grocery store, and a thin removable one that you can pick up once all your shopping is done. It's a simple idea that might make getting through the grocery store slightly faster, but I wouldn't want to be the person whose job it is to reinstall the lining every time one of the baskets is used.

A flight simulator using real drones

Amazon is slowly but surely working on its drone-delivery service, and this patent suggests it's looking for innovative ways to test its drones, even indoors — which is probably useful given everything going on in the world right now. Many autonomous systems are tested in virtual environments as well as the real world, but Amazon's patent is a blending of the two, using virtual 3D worlds for sensing algorithms to fly around in, while also connecting to an actual drone to test things like response times in moving parts that you just can't easily simulate.


Car phone holsters

Apple continues to do … something … related to the future of cars, as several patents in these roundups have shown, but this patent feels a little closer to the current reality. We all have smartphones, and other than awkward cupholders and glove boxes, there's not really anywhere in the car to store them safely, especially if you want to use them for driving directions. Apple's patent outlines a series of designs for phone holders that look pretty similar to what you'd find at a truck stop. The holder would use magnets to keep the phone securely in place, but it's not clear whether they'd be ones built into an iPhone, or something you'd add on later, which, again, is already a very common thing. The patent does suggest potentially having the dock connected to power and allowing the phone to charge wirelessly while sitting in it. That suggests that it's using the electromagnets in the back of an iPhone to stay in place, which would definitely be useful.

A foldable tablet with a screen on the back

Apple is apparently looking to pull a Samsung and build a foldable device with an additional screen on the outside. Foldables were all the rage before the world went into lockdown, so it'll be interesting to see if that trend continues once we can go back out into the world and need any screens other than large TVs for Netflix and phones for Zoom calls. Apple's design in this patent puts a small second screen on the outside of its tablet so that you can still get notifications or other pertinent information while the device is closed, without adding the heft of a full-fledged second screen. It does feel like something that could be negated by just throwing in an Apple Watch with the purchase of a device that will almost certainly be extremely expensive anyway.


"Medical devices"

Facebook is not the first company that springs to mind when most people think about medical tech, but that has not stopped it from filing this patent. In reality, it's most likely linked to the company's brain-computer interface work, which aims one day, presumably a while from now, to replace mice and keyboards with our very own thoughts. Hopefully that won't actually involve devices like the one described in this patent, which is apparently implantable through a "subdermal insertion with minimal tissue damage." I just shivered typing that phrase.

Curated playlists

I'm sharing this partially because the art in this patent is truly spectacular. Whoever drew this is a fan of '80s rock, "Bob's Burgers" and 2012 U.S. presidential nominees — and apparently got married in 1987. The patent basically outlines being able to glean information from one social media user's account for another user to make things like curated playlists for the first user. In the example given in the patent, a daughter makes a playlist of music that was popular in 1987, as it seems that's when her dad (a Mr. Bob Burger, who happens to be friends with some guys called Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) got married. It seems to be a cute way to share digital presents between loved ones, but also, I love that these song titles seem to have been recalled from memory by the patent artist:


A news reader focused on comments

Like many longtime internet users, I miss Google Reader. I'm not sure if Microsoft's latest patent would be quite the same, but it appears the company is looking at ways to modernize news consumption. On most sites, you have to scroll to the bottom to read the comments (if they still have those). Microsoft wants to make reader comments front and center in this design, with comments floating above the article. It seems like a function that is already served by Twitter and many other apps, and whoever wrote this patent seems to be a big Xiaomi fan, but who knows, maybe this is the app the news media has been missing.

A Surface laptop with a built in drawing pad

Touchscreen devices with styluses are great, but you don't always want to be switching back and forth between holding the device like a piece of paper to draw on it and like a laptop to type on it. Microsoft's new patent could be a solution: It envisions a device that looks a lot like its current Surface line of tablets, with the removable keyboards and kickstands, but with a new space next to the trackpad just for taking notes with a stylus. It'd be like having a pen and a pad on your laptop at all times, if that's something you needed.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories