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Video: Alexagate blocks Amazon Alexa from spying on users

28 July 2020

As privacy remains a concern with smart home devices like Amazon Echo, which is a smart speaker that detects and responds to users when a wake word is spoken, a new device called Alexagate jams the Amazon Echo’s microphone, thereby preventing the potential for eavesdropping.

The device looks like a hat for the smart speaker and works by clapping or tapping the device three times, which toggles the Echo microphone off. Clap or tap three more times and the Amazon Echo activates to play music or answer questions.

The device uses pulse ultrasound to jam the microphone of the Echo, which is beyond the range of human hearing. The device works with the Echo Dot first, second and third generations, the Echo Plus second generation, and the Echo first and third generations.

The makers of Alexagate believe that Amazon smart speakers not only listen actively to every word that is spoken in a household but logs and sends those conversations to the cloud. However, Amazon contends this is not the case at all. In fact, the company told Electronics360 that by default Alexa-enabled devices are not always listening and only detect acoustic patterns when the wake word is spoken. Amazon also said that no audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word. When audio is sent to the cloud, a visual indicator appears on the Alexa device or an audio tone plays.

To mute the microphone, Amazon said that Alexa devices come equipped with a microphone off button that when pressed disconnects the microphones and a red light is illuminated. When this happens, audio cannot be streamed to the cloud, even when a wake word is used. However, critics contend that even disabling the microphone on Alexa devices does not stop the device from listening to audio.

This is not the first time someone has tried to create a device to block Amazon Alexa devices from hearing user conversations. Last year, a Raspberry Pi-based device was created by a maker that functioned as a DIY solution to prevent Alexa or Google Home from eavesdropping on consumers. That device, called Alias, was one that makers could build themselves and it used white noise, feeding it directly into the voice assistant's microphone.

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