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Accolade at the Open Minds Award 2018

Award for ultrasound-firewall developed at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences

Accolade at the Open Minds Award 2018
Matthias Zeppelzauer

Mobile phones and tablets through so-called audio tracking, can be used by means of ultrasound to unnoticeably track the behaviour of their users: for example, viewing certain videos or staying in specific rooms and places.

This spring St. Pölten UAS released the SoniControl app, which can block acoustic tracking. The project has now been presented with the Open Minds Award 2018.

Barely-noticed monitoring technology

In the SoniControl research project, scientists at St. Pölten UAS have developed a method for detecting and blocking unnoticed (and usually unwanted) auditory spying. The result is the world's first ultrasound-firewall, which has been available for free in the Google App Store since March and has been downloaded more than 20,000 times worldwide. It detects acoustic cookies and suppresses them with inaudible ultrasonic-interference signals.

The app has now received the Open Minds Award 2018.  The organisers said in their press release, "The award winners have drawn attention to a barely-noticed monitoring technology".

Ultrasonic-Firewall

To mask and block the ultrasound communication, interference signals are sent through the loud speaker of your own mobile device. Thus, acoustic cookies can be effectively neutralised before the operating system or mobile applications can access them. Users can also block acoustic cookies selectively without affecting the functionality of the smartphone.

"The goal of the project was not only to protect privacy through detection and filtering of acoustic cookies but also to create awareness of acoustic tracking in our society. We are very pleased that the topic has been well received and that the project has now been presented with an award", said Matthias Zeppelzauer, Head of the project and Senior Researcher in the Media Computing Research Group of the Institute of Creative\Media/Technologies at St. Pölten UAS.

Data exchange via ultrasound in the Internet-of-Things

Data transmission by means of ultrasound can also be used deliberately. In a current follow-up project SoniTalk, Zeppelzauer together with colleagues is developing a first open and privacy-oriented protocol for data transmission with ultrasound. "Here we are placing particular value on integrating into the design technology the obligation to inform and receive the consent of the users", said Zeppelzauer.

Press release "Ultrasound-firewall for mobile phones"

Project SoniControl

The project was funded by the netidee initiative (www.netidee.at). The support campaign was organised and financed by the non-profit Internet Foundation Austria (IPA).

Project SoniTalk

The project is funded by the netidee initiative (www.netidee.at). The support campaign is organised and financed by the non-profit Internet Foundation Austria (IPA).

Project website