Bracelet of silence: how a pair of scientists came up with a device for suppressing microphones of “smart” speakers

Bracelet of Silence Photo by Petra Ford for NYT

A couple of researchers from China have created a device that allows you to hide conversations from smart speakers. The “Bracelet of silence” is enough to put on hand so that voice assistants do not hear a person’s speech. About the creation of the device told The New York Times.

The idea of ​​the bracelet came from a disagreement in the relationship.

In 2019, Ben Zhao decided to buy the Echo smart column home. He wanted to use a voice assistant to play music, but his wife Heather Zheng did not like the idea.

At first, the girl was against the appearance of the device in the house, but when her husband still purchased a speaker, she said that she did not want to see him in the office. Zheng scared a constantly on microphone.

As computer science professors at the University of Chicago, the couple decided to turn their differences into something productive. With the help of another professor Pedro Lopez, they created “digital armor”: a device that drowns out human speech for “smart” speakers.

The device works like an “insane clock”

The “Silence Bracelet” is 24 speakers that are connected together and emit ultrasonic waves when the wearer turns on the device. For most people, the sound is invisible: only children and dogs hear it, but the microphones around them begin to receive high-frequency noise instead of the surrounding sounds.

It’s so easy to record [human voice] now. This is a useful defense. When you need to say something personal, you can activate it in real time. When playing a recording, the sound will disappear.

Pedro Lopez

professor at the University of Chicago and one of the creators of the device

Lopez demonstrated the operation of the device during a telephone conversation with NYT reporters. After turning on the device, they began to hear white noise instead of the voice of the researcher.

While the bracelet exists only in the form of a prototype. Researchers say they can make it for $ 20, and several investors are already interested in commercial production.

As Zhao noted, given the proliferation of smart devices, “the war has already been lost.” In his opinion, no one controls the data collected by assistants, and in the future there will only be more threats.

Your circle of trust should become much smaller, sometimes narrowing literally to your body.

Ben Zhao

Moreover, according to a study by scientists from Northeastern University, in fact, voice assistants do not constantly listen to users. However, they often wake up erroneously, even when no one actually called them.

How else are protected from technology

“Silence Bracelet” is not the first device that allows you to protect users from technology. For example, in 2012, artist Adam Harvey created a cloak that masks the thermal signatures of people from the eyes of drones. He also came up with a line of makeup and hairstyles that let you fool cameras with face recognition.

In 2014, the Austrian architectural firm CHBL developed a jacket that blocks radio waves. This does not allow you to read information from the phone or credit card holder.

In 2016, Scott Urban developed the Reflectables range of reflective frames that bring back visible and infrared light. When a surveillance camera records a person with such glasses, reflected light blurs his face.

In 2018, two designers created the Project Alias ​​filter. However, it was necessary to put it on the speaker so that the microphones would stop working. Zheng believes that the jammer should be portable to protect people who move in different places and may not know where the microphone is hiding.

However, not everyone supports attempts to create a “privacy armor”. Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, believes that this only creates an “arms race”: in his opinion, all developments are half measures or a temporary solution.

Instead of trying to protect himself from technology with other technologies, he suggests developing laws to protect privacy. “Until then, it will only be a game of cat and mouse,” Harzog explained.

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