CES 2019: Mycroft's privacy-minded smart speaker wants to be your Alexa alternative

The open-source virtual assistant promises never to collect your data, and has a new touchscreen smart speaker to call home.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
2 min read
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Alexa and the Google Assistant have taken the mainstream by storm -- but some find the idea of sharing their in-home audio data a little unnerving.

Enter Mycroft, an alternative smart assistant that promises never to collect or store any of your data, not even anonymously. It's a smart assistant without a search history. And now, here at CES 2019, we're getting an early look at the upcoming Mycroft Mark II smart speaker that the virtual assistant will soon call home. The asking price: $189.

Watch this: Mycroft is an open-source alternative to Alexa with a new smart speaker

Mycroft started as an open-source, AI-powered smart home platform with Raspberry Pi 2 and Arduino controllers at its core. Its first device looked a little like an alarm clock with an 8-bit smile plotted across its face. Like that gadget, the Mark II will work with the open-source Home Assistant smart home platform to offer control of popular smart home gadgets from names like Philips Hue, WeMo and Wink , and it'll sync up with music services like Pandora to stream music as well.

Barring something completely unforeseen, Mycroft isn't likely ever to be as fully featured as Alexa or the Google Assistant, but the open-source approach and the focus on user privacy might be enough for some folks to accept the limitations. If all you want is a basic smart speaker that can turn your lights on and off, play some music, show you a weather forecast, answer general knowledge questions, set kitchen timers...

...you know, maybe this thing isn't really so basic. Those "limited" features would cover about 97 percent of my own smart assistant needs.

At any rate, the Mark II is still in the prototype phase, and seeking crowdfunding dollars on Indiegogo to help get it across the finish line within the next few months. I'm encouraged by the fact that the product has raised more than half a million dollars in less than a year, and that Mycroft AI delivered its first crowdfunded speaker back in 2017.

Still, you should still be aware of the risks when backing a crowdfunded gadget. CNET isn't endorsing this thing -- we haven't tested it, it isn't finalized yet, and there's no guarantee that it ever will be. Know the refund policy (or the lack of one) before you put your money down, and don't be surprised if things get delayed.

All of that said, Mycroft might be a name worth remembering, particularly as smart home privacy concerns continue to linger.

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