Project

Anti-surveillance Technologies

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Rubez Chong

Rubez Chong

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The fourth industrial revolution has brought new meanings to surveillance in the digital age. In recent years, we have seen the rise of corporate surveillance—from tracking our clicks and searches on webpages, to public CCTVs, to listening in on our private conversations—the panopticon is more ubiquitous than ever. Governments and corporations are increasingly data-hungry, arguing that more data beget better services, greater convenience, and high levels of security. However, convenience has come at the cost of personal privacy. Whilst researchers, artists, and activists have drawn attention to the threats posed by camera and video surveillance technologies, lesser attention has been given to audio surveillance technologies. With the advances in virtual assistants (i.e., Alexa, Siri, Google), voice user interfaces (UI) have surged in popularity and are projected to outnumber the human population by 2021. Researchers, however, have exposed the vulnerability of these technologies to malicious attacks—hidden voice commands can be embedded into frequency signals inaudible to the human ear to trick the virtual assistants, l… View full description

The fourth industrial revolution has brought new meanings to surveillance in the digital age. In recent years, we have seen the rise of corporate surveillance—from tracking our clicks and searches on webpages, to public CCTVs, to listening in on our private conversations—the panopticon is more ubiquitous than ever. Governments and corporations are increasingly data-hungry, arguing that more data beget better services, greater convenience, and high levels of security. However, convenience has come at the cost of personal privacy. Whilst researchers, artists, and activists have drawn attention to the threats posed by camera and video surveillance technologies, lesser attention has been given to audio surveillance technologies. With the advances in virtual assistants (i.e., Alexa, Siri, Google), voice user interfaces (UI) have surged in popularity and are projected to outnumber the human population by 2021. Researchers, however, have exposed the vulnerability of these technologies to malicious attacks—hidden voice commands can be embedded into frequency signals inaudible to the human ear to trick the virtual assistants, leaving the users prey to scams. Further, Amazon’s privacy violations have caught the media’s attention of late when it was revealed that Amazon workers were listening in on users’ private conservations. 

I am interested in designing everyday forms of civic resistance to voice AI surveillance technologies. These technologies come with speakers and microphones, turning every interaction into a potential data point for exploitation and surveillance. In response, I am building a Civic Privacy Hardware kit that enables consumers to reclaim their privacy in the age of surveillance capitalism. The aim of my research is two-fold: 1) to subvert audio surveillance technologies and 2) to make visual the invisible transmission of data over inaudible frequency ranges. 

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Rubez Chong