PowerCut and Obfuscator: An Exploration of the Design Space for Privacy-Preserving Interventions for Voice Assistants

Varun Chandrasekaran, Suman Banerjee, Bilge Mutlu, Kassem Fawaz

The pervasive use of smart speakers has raised numerous privacy concerns. While work to date provides an understanding of user perceptions of these threats, limited research focuses on how we can mitigate these concerns, either through redesigning the smart speaker or through dedicated privacy-preserving interventions. In this paper, we present the design and prototyping of two privacy-preserving interventions: `Obfuscator' targeted at disabling recording at the microphones, and `PowerCut' targeted at disabling power to the smart speaker. We present our findings from a technology probe study involving 24 households that interacted with our prototypes; the primary objective was to gain a better understanding of the design space for technological interventions that might address these concerns. Our data and findings reveal complex trade-offs among utility, privacy, and usability and stresses the importance of multi-functionality, aesthetics, ease-of-use, and form factor. We discuss the implications of our findings for the development of subsequent interventions and the future design of smart speakers.

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