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Amazon 'sniffer' patent could listen in on your Echo chats and target your 'likes'

Would you let your smart speaker listen in on a wider range of your conversations, if it meant it could better offer you recommendations?

That's the premise of a newly-uncovered Amazon patent, which details ways speakers like its Amazon Echo range could listen for trigger terms to record things that its users liked or hated.

While Echo speakers currently wait for the trigger word "Alexa" before listening to and establishing what a user wants through follow-on voice commands, the patent describes the way the voice assistant could also listen out for words like "love" and "like", and the sentences surrounding them, to establish a deeper insight into a user's interests. Likewise, negative terms could be used to fine tune things the user didn't care about.

This could in turn be "useful for purposes such as targeted advertising and product recommendations," according to the patent.

Patents and privacy

However, though the patent has been filed, and its potential is clear, Amazon says that it has no plans at present to implement its capabilities.

In a statement given to the BBC, an Amazon representative said:

"We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our Echo devices.

"Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology.

"Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services."

For those that are still spooked by having a Silicon Valley snoop sat in their living rooms, however, even the exploration of such patents is likely a worrying development.

Gerald Lynch

Gerald is the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves his gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Based out of TechRadar Towers, London, Gerald was previously Editor of Gizmodo UK. He dreams of the day when he can pop on a VR headset and meet Lawnmower Man-era Pierce Brosnan. Sadly, Pierce doesn't share the dream.