Your Amazon Echo is great at telling you the weather and answering other pressing inquiries, but what about your privacy?
Privacy is the topic that is on everyone’s mind when it comes to voice-controlled AI. While Amazon has yet to quell customers’ concerns 100 percent regarding this sensitive subject, a new hardware project called Alias is stepping in to make sure your Echo does not run amok.
Amazon Privacy Issues
Though millions of people have welcomed smart speakers into their households, the gadgets have experienced their fair share of missteps.
Just recently, a Portland family did the improbable and somehow, through a combination of exact murmurings and utterances, prompted their Echo to secretly record their conversation. The device went a step further and sent the recording to a random person on their contact list.
And sometimes these privacy problems are just errors on the part of Amazon and not the technology. A guy in Germany requested to hear back recordings of his own activities that he had made to Alexa, only for Amazon to send him over a thousand audio files from another customer.
Of course, in light of these privacy breaches, Amazon (and Google) has paid little more than lip service to consumer concerns. This is where Alias comes in.
Devices On Top of Devices
Shaped like dripping candle wax or a smear of cupcake frosting, Alias is a standalone, open-source device that sits perched on your current home speaking device.
The microphone/speaker accessory is powered by a plug and acts as a white noise buffer between your voice and your smart speaker. That is to say, when your smart speaker is not in use, Alias will feed the speaker white noise until the next use.
In order for Alias to discern between when you don’t want to speak to Alexa and when you do, users can program Alias to wake up based on any custom title or name they bestow upon it. For instance, users can name their Alias Sploogy McSploogeface. When Alias hears “Sploogy McSploogeface” (or whatever given command), Alias disables its white noise and wakes up the speaker assistant. Users can then interact with Alexa as they see fit.
Not Quite There…
Though a product like Alias would be a welcome addition to the marketplace, it’s still in development and is not available for purchase just yet.
“If somebody would be ready to invest, we would be ready for a collaboration,” says Alias designer Tore Knudsen speaking with Fast Company. “But initially, we made this project with a goal to encourage people to take action and show how things could be different . . . [to] ask what kind of ‘smart’ we actually want in the future.”