Smart home assistant devices, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, offer a lot of convenience, but that comes at a price. These devices don’t just fail to protect your privacy, they actively exploit it. They constantly gather data about you, and use it to tailor their advertising toward you. But, if you don’t want to give up that convenience altogether, Bjørn Karmann has a tutorial on how to build Project Alias and protect your privacy.
At first glance, this might seem like it’s addressing a relatively benign infraction. Sure, it’s weird when an ad pops up on Instagram for protein powder after you mention out loud to your spouse that you’re thinking about starting to go to the gym. But, that’s not that big of a deal, right? Unfortunately, it is — or at least it could be.
When everything is recorded, someone is bound to take advantage of that. In a recent court case, for example, prosecutors requested recordings from the defendant's Amazon Echo as evidence. Amazon refused to voluntarily hand them over, but the defendant eventually agreed anyway. It’s not a big leap of logic to consider that eventually the data collected by your Amazon Echo or Google Home data could be used against you, whether you agree or not.
Karmann’s Project Alias is designed to protect you from those privacy invasions by acting as a parasitic intermediary between you and the device. Alexa and Google Assistant may only respond to you when you say the wake word, but they’re always listening. Project Alias stops that, and only lets them listen when you say they can.
Karmann has designed two versions of Project Alias: one for the full-size Amazon Echo, and one for the original Google Home. Both have a unique and stylish fungus-like design that looks as if it grew on top of the device, and can be 3D-printed. The electronics inside Project Alias are a Raspberry Pi A+, a ReSpeaker 2-Mics Pi HAT, and two small speakers.
To start, 3D print the Project Alias enclosure for your device. Then, follow the instructions to connect the speakers and Pi HAT to the Raspberry Pi. Add those components to the 3D-printed enclosure, and then place it on top of your device. After that, you can install the Project Alias code and configure it for either an Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Using your phone, you then connect to Project Alias to train it with a new wake word. The microphones on your Amazon Echo or Google Home will no long hear you. But, when you say your custom Project Alias wake word, it will wake up the smart home assistant by playing the corresponding service’s standard wake word through the tiny speakers that are positioned next to the device’s microphones.
From there, it will relay your commands so you can use your home assistant as usual, while ensuring that it’s not listening the rest of the time. If you care about protecting your privacy, Project Alias is a great way to do it.