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Voice Assistant that Allows People with Visual Impairments to Get Web Content Quickly and Effortlessly

The research team from University of Waterloo found a way to merge the best elements of voice assistants with screen readers to create a tool

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 Researchers have developed a new voice assistant that allows people with visual impairments to get web content quickly and effortlessly from smart speakers and similar devices.

The research team from University of Waterloo found a way to merge the best elements of voice assistants with screen readers to create a tool called “Voice Exploration, Retrieval and Search (VERSE)” that makes web searches easier.

The primary input method for VERSE is voice, so users can say “next”, “previous”, “go back” or “go forward”.

VERSE can also be paired with an app, which runs on a smartphone or a smartwatch.

Voice Assistant, Visual Impairments, Web
Researchers have developed a new voice assistant that allows people with visual impairments to get web content quickly and effortlessly from smart speakers and similar devices. Pixabay

“Our prototype VERSE adds screen reader-like capabilities to virtual assistants and allows other devices, such as smartwatches to serve as input accelerators to smart speakers,” said study researcher Alexandra Vtyurina.

According to the team, virtual assistants are convenient and accessible but lack the ability to deeply engage with content such as read beyond the first few sentences of an article, list alternative search results and suggestions.

These devices can serve as input accelerators, similar to keyboard shortcuts. For example, rotating the crown on a smartwatch advances VERSE to the next search result, section or paragraph, depending on the navigation mode.

In the study, 53 visually impaired web searchers were surveyed. More than half of the respondents reported using voice assistants multiple times a day, and a vast range of devices such as smart speakers, phones and smart TVs.

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“At the outset, VERSE resembles other virtual assistants as the tool allows people to ask a question and have it answered verbally with a word, phrase or passage,” Vtyurina said.

VERSE is differentiated by what happens next.

If people need more information, they can use VERSE to access other search verticals, for example, news, facts and related searches and can visit any article that appears as a search result.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the 21st International “ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility” to be held in October in the US. (IANS)

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Google Announces a New Initiative Called ‘Privacy Sandbox’ to Protect Users’ Privacy on Web

Recent studies have shown that when advertising is made less relevant by removing cookies, funding for publishers falls by 52 per cent on average

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google, online tracking
A man walks past a Google sign outside with a span of the Bay Bridge at rear in San Francisco, May 1, 2019. VOA

In a bid to protect users’ privacy as they open ads on the web, Google has announced a new initiative called “Privacy Sandbox” to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on Internet.

Google said it will work with the web community to develop new standards that advance privacy, while continuing to support free access to content.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve started sharing our preliminary ideas for a ‘Privacy Sandbox’ — a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy,” Justin Schuh, Director, Chrome Engineering, said in a blog post on Thursday.

The company also aims to ensure that ads continue to be relevant for users, but their personal data shared with websites and advertisers would be minimized by anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only.

According to the company, large scale blocking of cookies undermine people’s privacy by encouraging opaque techniques such as “fingerprinting”.

privacy, google
FILE -Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 7, 2019. VOA

With “fingerprinting”, developers have found ways to use information that vary between users — such as what device they have or what fonts they have installed to generate a unique identifier which can then be used to match a user across websites.

“Unlike cookies, users cannot clear their fingerprint, and therefore cannot control how their information is collected. We think this subverts user choice and is wrong,” said Google.

However, blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web.

Also Read: Top Investor of Tesla Wants Elon Musk to Step Down as CEO

Recent studies have shown that when advertising is made less relevant by removing cookies, funding for publishers falls by 52 per cent on average.

“So we are doing something different. We want to find a solution that both really protects user privacy and also helps content remain freely accessible on the web,” said Google, asking for feedback on this approach from the web platform community, including other browsers, publishers and their advertising partners. (IANS)