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Creepy Tech Patent of the Year: Google's Policy Violation Snooper

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By William Peacock, Esq. on May 08, 2013 12:14 PM

Employers can, in most cases, monitor employee email. The problem is, that's a time-consuming chore. Unless litigation ensues (or is threatened), most employers would rather spend their time doing something more productive.

Ah, but for every tech need, there is an invention. We already know that there is software (or "bots") that can scan email to filter out spam or junk messages. And Google uses a similar technology to scan your email and deliver personalized advertisements. How about taking that same technology and using it to monitor employees' email for violations of company policies?

That's the newest, and creepiest, Google patent filing in a nutshell, reports the Huffington Post. Certain phrases will trigger an alert to the user, the legal department, and/or the supervisor, explain why the phrase violates company policies, and suggest alternate wording.

At it's best, the system could be helpful in minimizing e-discovery traps. We've seen story after story about someone saying something stupid in an email, only to later have that email pop up in court. This would presumably minimize smoking-gun emails. And, of course, employees could always handle their personal and sensitive communications through personal email accounts on their smartphones.

At it's worst, Huffington suggests that it could be used by authoritarian dictatorships to censor subversive communications. The patented software apparently can be used in nearly any Internet-connected device, including smartphones, televisions, and regular old-fashioned PCs. It certainly seems plausible.

One creepy step further would use increasingly-accurate voice recognition. Google Now can already translate your voice into search inquiries (i.e. "Google, what time is the Lakers' game on tonight?"). One can only imagine how far a combination of the two technologies could go.

Google spokesman Matt Kallman issued a response to the minor uproar over the patent:

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

Thanks Matt, we feel better now.

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