Online retail giant Amazon has patented a new artificial intelligence system that could be used in its smart speakers to track people's conversations.
The patent application, which was filed last June, details technology that would allow the e-commerce firm to snoop on the things people are talking about in a bid to tailor advertisement campaigns.
Currently, the company's smart speakers are always in a "listening" mode and can be activated when a user says something like "Hello Alexa". However, they do not actually record conversations - it only listens and records conversations after a particular 'wake phrase' is spoken.
But within the foreseeable future, this could change. Instead, the Echo speakers - and other AI systems - could be packed with "voice sniffer algorithms" that could kick into action when they recognise words suggesting people's interests.
"One or more sniffer algorithms or processes can attempt to identify trigger words in the voice content, which can indicate a level of interest of the user," claims the patent application.
"For each identified potential trigger word, the device can capture adjacent audio that can be analysed, on the device or remotely, to attempt to determine one or more keywords associated with that trigger word."
For example, if someone were to say something like "I like beer and football", the speaker would be able to use this information to offer personal advertisements and other suggestions.
While this sounds intrusive, the technology could potentially be useful for people to get quick product recommendations and offers.
"Topics of potential interest to a user, useful for purposes such as targeted advertising and product recommendations, can be extracted from voice content produced by a user," it continued. "A computing device can capture voice content, such as when a user speaks into or near the device."
Amazon explained that this information would then be sent to third-parties, which would be able to tailor content for customers.
"The identified keywords can be stored and/or transmitted to an appropriate location accessible to entities such as advertisers or content providers who can use the keywords to attempt to select or customise content that is likely relevant to the use," said the firm.
Despite these plans, Amazon has said in the past that it will not use customer voice data to tailor its advertisements.
It told ABC News: "Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services."
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