More Data Protection for Voice Assistants

Project timeline: Feb. 2020 – Dec. 2023                       

Financing: Supported by the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection

Partners: University of Siegen, open.INC 

Project coordinator: Fraunhofer FIT

Tasks of FIT: Management of the user-centered software development and evaluation of the developed solutions within the framework of a Living Labs with approx. 30 households

In recent years, digital voice assistants have moved into many households as useful helpers in everyday life. But as practical as they are – they do not focus on protecting privacy. Voice assistant devices collect enormous amounts of data and increase the security risk of data misuse by third parties. Fraunhofer FIT works together with partners on the development of an online platform that supports consumers in exercising their DSGVO rights.

Digital voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri and others are becoming increasingly popular with their various applications and ability to integrate seamlessly into users’ home environments. With just a few words, the latest news can be called up in an instant, the weather forecast announced, or your favorite music streamed. Voice assistants can also connect to other smart devices within the home to switch appliances on and off or control lighting conditions.

This technology, however, has raised controversy in terms of data protection and consumer privacy. One major area of concern has to do with the manufacturers of digital voice assistants, who have the ability to store all interactions with the device on their cloud systems and pass them on to third-party servers. With this in mind, there is a need for greater consideration of the consumer and how their personal data can be more securely processed. Under the DSGVO, consumers have the right to obtain information about their stored data as well as decide to have it changed or deleted. However, since the information provided is usually only a collection of raw data, it is currently an incomprehensible and complicated process. 

The project CheckMyVA (in German: Analsiere meinen Sprachassistenten) addresses exactly these concerns in order to improve data sovereignty for users of voice assistants. As part of the project, an internet platform will be developed to offer consumers a simple and clear way to view their collected data. Additionally, the platform will be able to support users in the case of data privacy violations and help them exercise their consumer protection rights according to the DSGVO.

Methodologically, the project is based on a “Living Lab” which will work with a qualitative sample of about 30 households over a period of two years. The aim of the Living Lab is to closely examine the usage of voice assistants and privacy practices. User-centered design is a main focus to identify requirements for the development of the platform, which makes the consumer a vital part in the research of this project. Secondly, testing under real conditions will provide practical evidence of the platform’s feasibility and allow for study of its application in everyday life. 

Fraunhofer FIT is the project coordinator for CheckMyVA and contributes its expertise in user-centered software development for the design and evaluation of the Living Labs. The University of Siegen (Chair of Business Informatics) provides expertise in the field of Usable Privacy and Digital Consumer Analytics and implements the platform in cooperation with the start-up open.INC. The research project is funded the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) based on a decision of the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Official project website