We need open source AI assistants to fight back privacy invasive smart assistants

When I was a little kid, I first got to know that there is a thing that is wonderful. It’s called the internet and you can access pretty much anything on it. For me it was free Ebooks, online fun magazines, learning how to do cool stuff in wikiHow. It is a useful thing, a tool that built our generation and is shaping the future of communication and globalization.

People got on the internet. Businesses, too. Now they can reach customers faster. More and more people got on board and it became crowded. The Internet changed a lot after someone invented cookies and browsers adopted it. Some people thought it’s a good idea to use cookies to keep track of the users. And then it started.

Businesses like Google and Facebook are all about collecting and making a profit out of personal data they collect ‌for a few frees to use services and applications. The price is your personal data. It fuels Google’s business and it also created one of the internet’s biggest problems. These tech giants hold the power to control most of the internet and have the power to shape it in a way that less and fewer users would opt out from using their services.

You don’t even have to use Google to be tracked. Almost every major website has google ads and trackers baked in. You hit a site that contains such trackers and boom you are identified and tagged all over the other pages.

The smart data collector

Everything that has “Smart” on its name may collect your data. Smartphone, smart gadgets, and smart speakers. Also, a smart assistant. Google knows you better than your girlfriend/boyfriend does because all the secrets you never share with anyone have already been logged by your operating system. Even when you are using Apple devices. They just collect data in other ways.

“And, yet, despite these public swipes at tech competitors, Apple is also a player – albeit an indirect one – in the whole “shadow economy.” After all, Google pays billions of dollars directly to Apple in order to remain the default search engine in mobile Safari. Thus, every time an Apple user carries out a search on their iPhone, Apple is essentially sending that user straight into the waiting arms of Google. According to estimates by tech analysts, Google paid Apple $3 billion in 2017 for the right to be the default search engine, and another $9 billion in 2018. In 2019, that figure could rise to $12 billion.” – CPO Magazine

If you go to your Google My Activity page, you will see what I mean. Everything you search with the Google app, every site you browse with Chrome, every word you utter in Google Assistant app, every app you open and their usage, everything is logged. Apple does it too. Even when they throw technical mumbo-jumbo at you and claim they don’t.

Smart speakers, because companies need to hear you too

The “Smart disaster” grows smarter and comes up with smarter ways to collect more data. How about voice? Your private audio? How about your interests?

“The Dot wasn’t supposed to behave like a dadaist drill sergeant. Then again, voice assistants often do things that they are not supposed to do. Last year, an Amazon customer in Germany was mistakenly sent about 1,700 audio files from someone else’s Echo, providing enough information to name and locate the unfortunate user and his girlfriend. (Amazon attributed this “unfortunate mishap” to human error.)” – The Guardian

AI Assistants are like futuristic “sci-fi come true” kinds of things for people. I remember when I saw an old ad about someone using their voice to turn lights on and off, and the reporter reacted like he saw something extraordinary that couldn’t be real. Now Siri and Google Assistant can do more than controlling home electronics. And also collect more and more personal data, including voice and audio.

I doubt ‌they do not keep a record of the detailed profile of someone’s personality. This way, they can know more about you, your interests, and sell more of you. A brilliant way to make you a product. Apple says they do not keep a record of you when you interact with Siri, but they also say they ‌sell your data. Also, they keep users’ messages and photos on the iCloud, un-encrypted.

We need to make open source AI assistant

Good thing that we have an alternative for many applications, OS and services to protect our privacy. Many de-googled android OS such as /e/OS are available if you want Android without data logging. A good deal of privacy friendly but advanced and user friendly desktop operating systems such as Ubuntu, Fedora and Manjaro are getting popular. We have privacy friendly alternatives for almost every app on the desktop and the catalog is getting huge day by day.

Now we need alternatives for AI assistants. One that does not sell your soul to any third party. Thankfully, we are having alternatives. Mycroft, a company who are running a Kickstarter campaign for their new smart speaker, Mark II. It’s a smart speaker with a display and AI assistant built in. They promise to deliver an alternative for Alexa and Google’s smart speakers.

Recently, e.foundation founder Gaël Duval published an article about Elivia, a new AI assistant for /e/OS. I have high hopes about it, and it also fulfills one of my desires for privacy friendly Android alternative operating systems. There is a reason why this is extraordinary, and I will soon talk about why I think so.

Now, the project is forked from another project, which is Olivia. The key goal of Elivia is to provide a voice initiated smart AI assistant for /e/OS. You can ask Elivia to add tasks to your list, keep notes and engage in conversation with it.

Challenges for open source AI assistants

There is a reason Elivia may succeed, but other AI assistants may not. First‌, Android and iOS do not let other apps be like their own assistant. Other apps cannot have the functionalities that Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant have on their platform. Developers just can’t make an app that works like Siri or Google Assistant because Play store and App store do not allow apps with such permissions. The closest one can get is an app that users have to manually open, then press the mic button to communicate with the app. You can’t get full voice assistant experience in such a way.

/e/OS can get past this because they are the one who is building Elivia. So they can build Elivia into /e/OS and will have the same features as Google assistant and Siri has. Im very excited because of this reason. I can start Elivia by saying “Hey Elivia”. When I saw a video about the parent project, Olivia, I thought it was good, but the voice was kind of robotic. I think Elivia can solve the issue and add a natural voice to the assistant. That would be bonkers.

I heard about Deepin working on a similar project and I was hoping they would release it with Deepin 20, but it didn’t happen. I think they are still working on it, as the Deepin team confirmed. Maybe we can see Elivia before it, and maybe Elivia will be ported on Desktop Linux distributions.


Just like the data collection norm with the web, AI Assistants are just another way of collecting more and more personal data. With Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa, companies are collecting more data and more ‌data, including personal interest, day-to-day life and family data along with voice and audio data. The amount of data they can collect with AI Assistants, can turn you into a man without identity. And to fight this, we need to provide general consumers with advanced and privacy friendly alternatives for AI Assistants. Many companies are working with this goal in head, and we saw new hope this year with interesting projects like Elivia. I hope soon, we will get an excellent replacement for every privacy harvesting machine.

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