Project Alias is a ‘smart parasite’ that stops smart speakers from listening

With the concern over privacy and security surrounding the Internet of Things, a lot of creative terms have been thrown around in reference to devices that always listen in — parasite is one common phrase. But what better way to beat a parasite than with one of your own? Bjorn Karmann and Tore Knudsen, two designers with uniquely creative vision, have designed exactly that: Project Alias, a “smart parasite” that fits on top of your Google Home or Alexa device and prevents it from listening in on your conversations. As for why it’s called a parasite, well, look at the picture.

project alias smart parasite fights always listening speakers projectalias

Project Alias is powered by Raspberry Pi and has a single driving purpose: To feed nonsense sound to the always-on ear of the Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Project Alias only stops projecting when it hears its own wake word. While the technology is ostensibly similar to how the Google Home and Alexa functions, you can program your own wake word for the Project Alias. You can make the wake word whatever you want it to be, which means your Star Trek-inspired dream of shouting “computer!” into the air (and actually receiving a response) will soon come true.

Once Project Alias hears its wake word, the parasite shuts off its sound and allows the underlying device to hear and respond like normal. Project Alias will start blocking the microphones again after 30 seconds, an action signaled by an LED within the shell.

Karmann wants to create a reliable way to guarantee privacy for IoT users, but his plans don’t stop there. “Since Project Alias is essentially a man-in-the-middle device, it could say more than just the wake word. We could imagine users writing their own responses and shortcuts. For example: Say the word ‘weather’ and Project Alias could trigger the assistant and ask it about today’s weather forecast,” he told TechCrunch.

project alias smart parasite fights always listening speakers projectalias2

While Project Alias solves at least part of the inherent security problems with Alexa and Google Home devices, there are still other concerns that haven’t been addressed. With each vocal request, the companies use the information to build out a more complete user profile. This can lead to more convenience, but it can also be used for targeted advertisements.

The customizable part of Project Project Alias also poses security concerns of its own. The device is a step in the right direction, but it is not yet a final solution. Until thorough privacy regulations are implemented, there will always be a risk to using voice-activated devices with always-on functionality.

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