Are you worried about reports of employees from Amazon and Google listening to recordings from the smart speaker in your home? Well, this might be the perfect solution.
AI-powered speakers, like the impossibly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home, are incredibly useful. These devices let you control smart lightbulbs, central heating, and TVs using your voice, as well as set timers, get the latest headlines and weather updates, order takeaways and taxis. However, there are clearly some privacy implications with inviting an always-on microphone into your living room, kitchen, or perhaps most worrying of all, bedroom.
Of course, Amazon and Google both include controls to kill the microphone. Likewise, both technology companies promise the built-in microphones are only ever listening for the wake words — “Alexa” and “Hey Google, ” respectively — and discard pretty much everything else.
Nevertheless, if you're looking to speak privately with a friend or employee without a smart speaker overhearing you — this could be the solution.
Developed by a trio of professors from the University of Chicago, this new “wearable jammer” emits ultrasonic noise from your wrist that interferes with any nearby microphones' ability to record. But best of all, the troublesome frequency is inaudible to humans, so you'll be able to continue your conversation without raising your voice — safe in the knowledge that nothing you're saying can be recorded by any nearby Alexa, Google Assistant, or even someone shooting a video in the vicinity with their smartphone.
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Professors Ben Zhao, Heather Zheng, assistant professor Pedro Lopes have decided to kindly publish the schematics online, so anyone can build their own privacy wristband at home. And when we say “anyone”, we mean anyone with a good understanding of multi-directional ultrasonic wave technology.
Although it's not the first device of its kind, there is something very special about this wrist-worn jammer. As the paper explaining the science behind the new design explains: “[Current] jammers are also directional, requiring users to point the jammer to a microphone; instead, our wearable bracelet is built in a ring-layout that allows it to jam in multiple directions.
“This is beneficial in that it allows our jammer to protect against microphones hidden out of sight.”
What's more, the professors behind the gadget explain that because of people's tendency to “speak” with their hands while talking, this wearable jammer design is extra effective at blocking hidden microphones at is moves around and is always located in close proximity to the speaker's mouth.
According to the New York Times, Zhao and Zheng believe this privacy-focused bracelet could be produced for the mass market for some $20.
Unfortunately, at the moment it doesn't look like they intend to do so at any kind of scale. That's where the freely available online instructions come in.
“This [GitHub repository] provides simulation source code, hardware design, firmware and schematics to replicate our results and prototypes in the paper,” the authors behind the design explained.
If you're not confident enough in your ability to cobble together a cutting-edge wearable ultrasonic wave bracelet, then you could always just hit the “Mute” switch on your nearest Google Home or Amazon Echo.
Written by David Minister
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