This Smart Speaker ‘Hack’ Keeps Digital Assistants from Spying on You

Project Alias Google Home Credit: Fast Company
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There are some obvious privacy concerns with having an Amazon Echo or Google Home in your house. A new open-source initiative wants to help with that.

It’s called Project Alias, and the way it works is really simple and elegant. Essentially, it’s an always-listening speaker (described by its developers as an “open-source parasite”) that’s designed to fit on top of an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, Fast Company reports.

At first glance, it kind of looks like you melted a candle on your smart home speaker. But the device actually creates a background hum of inaudible white noise that prevents a smart speaker from listening to you.

How is that any different from a mute button? Well, the Alias itself is invoked with its own customizable wake word.

Once it’s woken up, it’ll stop producing white noise and will whisper “Alexa” or “Ok Google” directly to your smart speaker. From there, you can command your Echo or Google Home normally.

In other words, it serves as a buffer between you and Amazon or Google. None of the conversations you have with Alias ever leave the device. It doesn’t connect to the internet at all, save for a short initial setup process.

Of course, the commands you actually give to Alexa or Google Assistant are still saved by their respective companies. But Alias keeps them from listening after being triggered accidentally.

You can think of it as a third-party “mute button” that you can safely and privately deactivate with voice commands.

Digital assistants and the devices they live in have become pretty ubiquitous lately. But while convenient, they don’t come without risks.

Ostensibly, digital assistants only listen when you wake them up — except when they don’t. Even if Alexa isn’t eavesdropping, there’s always the risk for the conversations it does record to fall into the wrong hands.

How Can I Get It?

Project Alias seems like a good mixture of convenience and privacy. Its only downfall is that it isn’t a product that you can go out and buy — at least, not yet.

As mentioned earlier, it’s an open-source project, and a Raspberry Pi is required. So you’ll need to put in a bit of DIY effort to get it going. It’s also currently still in its experimental development phase.

But it’s still a great idea and worth following, especially if it becomes a consumer-level product later on. You can view the source code and learn more at its Github link.

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