Project Alias Prevents Smart Homes from Eavesdropping

Project Alias is a device that can be placed on top of any voice-connected smart home in order to prevent it from listening to users’ conversations. Alias’ speakers feed constant soft noise into the smart home that prevents it from recognizing its wake-word. Instead, users will create a customized wake-word for the Alias, which will stop the noise and active the digital assistant normally. Project Alias was created by Bjorn Karmann, a designer at Tellart, a company known for its work on iOt devices, and Tore Knudsen, an interaction designer at Topp, another design company. Currently, Project Alias is “experimental and still in development”, according to Project Alias’ profile on Github.

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Project Alias. Photo provided by Project Alias.

The aim of Project Alias is to combine smart technology with privacy security.

“Our relationship with technology is formed from how we interact with it. However, commercial smart products for the home tends to treat the user as passive consumers…with Alias we want to challenge this condition and ask what kind of “smart” we actually want in the future.”

Karmann writes on the Project Alias website. The design itself was inspired by cordyceps fungus and viruses which use insects for their own benefits. Project Alias is a “parasite for smart home systems,” Karmann writes. The top of Project Alias is a 3-D printed shell, covering a mic array, speaker, and Raspberry Pi, a handheld computer programmed with the Alias app. To create a custom wake-word, the user must say the name four times into the app while holding record. After pressing “train” and waiting for a few seconds, the Alias will have learned its new name and will not respond to its old name.

Project Alias was made after a string of cybersecurity issues concerning connected devices like smart homes. At the 2018 EEMA ISSE Conference, the European Union discussed the importance of data protection and created funding to help improve collaboration between the nations. On the consumer side, many people aren’t aware of how companies can share their data from connected devices. Only 40% of people knew that their data was being shared across multiple devices, according to a study from Clutch, a U.S market research company. “We started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products,” Karmann writes. Project Alias allows the user more control and privacy in their usage of smart homes.

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza is a journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout her career, her work has spanned many intersections within the tech industry. At SquareFoot, a New York-based real estate technology company, she wrote about the ways in which technology has changed the real estate industry, as well as the challenges that business owners face when they want to invest in property. At Degreed.com, an education technology website, Aliza created digital content for lifelong learners, exploring the ways in which technology has democratized education. Additionally, she has written articles for The Huffington Post as well as her own content on Medium, the online publishing platform. Aliza’s love of journalism and research stems from the excellent Journalism program at Brandeis University. At Brandeis, Aliza interned as a research assistant at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit “news room without walls”. There, Aliza was paired with an investigative journalist and used academic databases to obtain data on everything from the suicide rates in Bhutan to local Boston court cases. Her last position was as an account executive at Yelp, educating business owners on the power of technology to increase revenue. Throughout, however, her heart remained with tech journalism, and she’s thrilled to be writing for Security Baron. When she’s not keeping afloat of the latest tech trends, Aliza likes to cook, read, and write. A former high school “Class Clown,” Aliza has completed two feature-length screenplays, a pilot, and countless comedic sketches. On her days off you can find her relaxing in Prospect Park, trying the latest flavors at Ample Hills Ice Cream, and spending time with friends and family.

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