The Amazon Echo and the Google Home opened our eyes (and ears) to what an always-on, always-listening smart speaker can do.
But with all the home-organizing convenience they promise, an always-listening gadget will always raise privacy and cybersecurity concerns.
If you’re worried about how these big tech companies could be snooping in on your conversations, then this little “parasitic” gadget may just be the very thing you need.
Meet Alias, a smart-speaker blocker
A new DIY open-source hardware project is aiming to stop the Amazon Echos and Google Homes of the world from snooping in on our private conversations.
How does it work? Well, the clever gadget, nicknamed Alias, is designed to sit on top of your smart speaker and constantly flood it with white noise, blocking its mics from listening in.
You can then program it with your own personalized wake word so it can momentarily stop the white noise, wake your smart speaker for you and you can bark your requests as usual.
This means that instead of the boring preset wake words (“Alexa,” “Amazon,” “OK, Google,” “Hey, Google,” etc.), you can now rename your smart speaker to any word of your choosing. (Cue in all the “Hal” and “Rosie” wake word requests.)
Powered by a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, a mic array and two speakers plus topped by a 3D-printed fungi-inspired cover, this gadget basically acts as a privacy middleman between you and your smart speaker.
“The exciting future that ‘smart’ technologies can give us often comes with conditions that diminish our privacy,” explained Project Alias heads Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen. “With Alias we want to challenge this condition and ask what kind of ‘smart’ we actually want in the future.”
A smart speaker on top of another smart speaker?
You may now be wondering how this gadget can safeguard your privacy from smart speakers if it’s actually just another always-listening smart speaker itself. Why would you trust this over the others?
Well, for one, it appears that it can function locally without the need for any cloud services. It requires an internet connection during the setup process but that’s it. You can use it totally offline afterward.
But keep in mind that the Alias will just help you shield your conversations while your Amazon Echo or Google Home is idle. Every successful command your actual smart speaker processes will still be stored in the cloud under your account.
Do you want one? Then build it yourself
And currently, this is still an open-source Raspberry Pi project so it’s not available commercially yet. If you want your own Alias, you will have to build it yourself (or have someone else build it for you.)
Still, it’s a fantastic idea that an enterprising manufacturer will probably mass produce soon.
Ready to try your hand on this clever DIY privacy project? Head on over to the official Project Alias page.
Concerned about all the saved conversations you’ve ever had with Alexa? Here’s how to hear all your Amazon Echo recordings (and delete them too!)