Last year, Ben Zhao decided to buy an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker for his Chicago home. Zhao just wanted a digital assistant to play music, but his wife, Heather Zheng, was not enthused. “She freaked out,” he said. Zheng characterized her reaction differently. First she objected to having the device in their house, she said.
Then, when Zhao put the Echo in a workspace they shared, she made her position perfectly clear: “I said, ‘I don’t want that in the office. Please unplug it. I know the microphone is constantly on.’”
Zhao and Zheng are computer science professors at the University of Chicago, and they decided to channel their disagreement into something productive. With the help of an assistant professor, Pedro Lopes, they designed a piece of digital armor: a “bracelet of silence” that will jam the Echo or any other microphones in the vicinity from listening in on the wearer’s conversations. More