Seattle Fans Celebrate

Google Patent: Video Mob Sourcing Spots Public Gatherings

Google is adding to its arsenal of creepy, Big Data tools with crowd sourcing technology that can identify public gatherings and other events that draw spectators.

The company has applied to the US government for a patent on what is described as a method for “inferring events based on mob source video,” according to the Web site Public Intelligence. The technology uses video clips submitted by Google users (to YouTube, etc.) to infer that “an event of interest has likely occurred.” The technology surveys time- and geolocation stamps on the videos to correlate the activities of individuals who might be part of a gathering.

Seattle Fans Celebrate
Seattle fans celebrate after the Seahawks Super Bowl victory. Technology from Google could make it possible to identity spontaneous gatherings using images and video submitted by the crowd. (Image courtesy of

The Patent, US2014/0025755 A1, was published on January 23, 2014 and lists Google Inc. as the Assignee and Ronald Paul Hughes as the inventor. It claims the technology, dubbed “mob sourcing” will allow Google to correlate video and images to infer the existence of groups (i.e. a public gathering, performance or accident), then send notifications to interested parties. Possible recipients of mob-sourced notifications include law enforcement, a news organization or blogger.

Video clips are not visually analyzed, according to Google. Instead, the meta data of the clip is used to feed Google’s correlation engines.

“Embodiments of the present invention are thus capable of providing near real-time information to pertinent organizations when users of wireless terminals (aka ‘mobile phones’) upload video clips to the repository upon being recorded.” The technology – while described as pertaining to video clips – is also applicable to other content including still photos, audio clips and so on, the patent application says.

The mob sourcing capability could be used to analyze and correlate video clips submitted by users either with the user’s permission or without it, the patent application says. Consumer applications could allow YouTube users who upload a video to associate it with an ongoing event –say “South by Southwest Festival 2014” – making it easier for others to enjoy a crowd-sourced view of events.

Google Mob Sourcing Patent Application
Google’s patent application describes a method for collecting time and geospatial data from submitted videos to identify gatherings.

However, mob sourcing could also be a powerful surveillance and law enforcement tool: allowing governments to use social media to locate nascent protests or other political gathering based on crowd-sourced photos and videos of the event.

Even before revelations that the US National Security Agency was tapping into systems operated by Google, Yahoo and other US cloud providers, privacy advocates expressed concern about the way that huge aggregations of personal data might be used to spy on the public. As we noted yesterday, Google’s nascent Glass wearable technology has generated concern over how a Glass-outfitted population might create a kind of Panopticon, obliterating centuries old notions of public and private space.

The mob sourcing patent is pending approval by the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO).


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