Amazon's Latest Patent: Guessing Religion Based On Giftwrap

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Patent filings are fun documents, in that they provide a peek into the most creative what-if visions of leading retailers. With the caveat that most patents are never productized—and for good reason—they offer a moment of pure research, pure idea, without the burden of market realities to dilute the dream. And when these ideas come from Amazon, it's even better.

With that in mind, Amazon is floating the idea of launching a social service. Whether it would be a dating site or a potential business partner finder or just a more intelligent way of choosing who to hang with online, that's not clear. But it is clear that Amazon is drooling over its vast CRM files and trying to figure out how much money it can make off them.

The Amazon filing starts by capturing all activity from Amazon, so it can better match consumers with other consumers.

"The analyzed behaviors may include the item purchases, item rentals, item viewing activities, Web browsing activities and/or search histories of the users. The items may, for example, include book titles, music titles, movie titles and/or other types of items that tend to reflect the traits and interests of users having affinities for such items," the filing says. "The event data may, for example, include user order histories indicative of the particular items purchased and/or rented by each user. Event data reflective of other types of user actions, such as item-detail-page viewing events, browse node visits and/or search query submissions, may additionally or alternatively be considered. By taking catalog-item-related event data into consideration, the matching service reduces the burden on users to explicitly supply personal profile information and reduces poor results caused by exaggerations and other inaccuracies in such profile information."

In other words, customers don't have to tell us their likes and dislikes; we already know. (The one thing this filing lacks is good sound effects. To try and address this oversight, StorefrontBacktalk is suggesting that readers, while reviewing this story, periodically play this 3-second MP3 file.)The Amazon filing continues: "Users may be matched to users and/or communities based on their Web browsing and search histories across the World Wide Web or based on other types of non-catalog-related events that may be tracked via a computer network. Other categories of items that may be represented in the catalog include, but are not limited to, consumer electronics, software, tickets for entertainment events, tickets for travel, sporting goods, gourmet food, magazine subscriptions, articles and Web sites. The items represented in the electronic catalog may also include or consist of services, such as but not limited to cellular phone services, Internet access services and Web site hosting services. Many thousands or millions of different items may be represented in the catalog."

How about some religious affiliation guessing? The filing suggests drawing conclusions from things such as "the giftwrap used by such other users when purchasing gifts for this user, such as when the giftwrap evidences the user's religion"—in the case of Christmas or Hanukkah giftwrap, for example.

How about finding compatible body cycles? Amazon wants to track "the time of day at which the user typically engages in online activity, the location (e.g., city) or locations from which the user accesses the matching service or otherwise engages in online activity, as may be determined reasonably accurately based on IP addresses associated with the user computing devices, any blogs, RSS feeds, E-mail newsletters and/or other content channels to which the user subscribes; the user's item rating profile, which may be collected, e.g., by systems that provide functionality for users to rate particular items represented in an electronic catalog and the user's 'reputation' for supplying high-quality item reviews or other content as determined based on votes cast by other users."

Amazon also wants to track "travel preferences, as determined based on online ticket purchases; the user's cell phone usage; the user's music download history; news articles selected by the user for viewing online; the television programs selected by the user via an online television programming guide used to program digital video recorders; information about how the user has redeemed loyalty points associated with a credit card, frequent-flyer program or other loyalty program; the user's preferences for particular types or clusters of search results on search results pages, the user's credit-card transactions. Data regarding these and other types of user behaviors may be collected, and incorporated into the matching process, via automated processes such that the users need not affirmatively perform any action to supply the matching service with such information."

Not sure if this friend-finding service—or gift-giving effort—will ever launch, but I can be sure of this. Amazon has just given a wonderful gift—and made a lifelong friend—of every privacy advocate in the country.