Published on

Hearing aids that can see: can privacy be maintained?

  • Name
    Dorothy Hardy
    COG-MHEAR Research Programme Manager

How would you feel about a hearing aid that incorporates a video sensor and uses lip reading to enhance only the speech of the person you are talking to? The COG-MHEAR project is looking into this as a future technology for hearing aids.

The COG-MHEAR user group, people with hearing loss, plus industrial, clinical and charity partners, met recently to discuss the technology and consider how potential barriers to accepting the new hearing technology could be overcome.

Perhaps the most crucial issue discussed was privacy. The new technology will include sensors to carry out lipreading. There are ways to make this safe, such as ensuring that information is encrypted as it is received. But would users trust the technology? Researchers on the COG-MHEAR project are studying just how few data are needed to be captured by ‘smart’ sensors in very noisy environments and how that can be immediately encrypted as soon as it is collected, so that it cannot be accessed by third parties.

In general people have become more accepting of new technology during the Covid pandemic – such as chatting to family and friends virtually over platforms such as Zoom. But a hearing aid with extra sensors that are in use continually may be a step further on from occasionally taking videos on your phone. Those in the meeting thought that the new technology might be welcomed as an add-on for occasional use, in particularly noisy, crowded places, where the use of extra sensors might be considered routine.

The project researchers are also ambitiously exploring use of ‘privacy-preserving’ wireless radio signals to replace video sensors altogether! The COG-MHEAR project would welcome more views as the new hearing aid technology is developed. If you would like to be involved, then please contact the team: here.