Google’s Pixel 2 event saw the launch of a slew of hardware from the company, including a new Google Home Mini speaker. The key focus around the hardware was the Google Assistant, which is driven by AI and machine learning and promises to make life easier for users. Except, the Google Home Mini has already been caught recording a user’s every single word, query and sending it back to the servers. Google issued a fix for Home Mini speaker in order to tackle this extreme privacy violation.
Android Police‘s Artem Russakovskii has written a detailed post explaining how the Google Home Mini speaker given to him at the Pixel 2 event managed to record all words, phrases that was uttered in his house. The article points out the Google Home Mini speaker would try and respond to every phase, including any sounds coming from the television set.
According to article and screenshots shared, the author saw the Google Home Mini speaker was sending everything recorded back to the servers for a request. Users can see their Google Assistant activity on a dedicated page for this, the url is myactivity.google.com/myactivity and if you want you can also check what activity with the Google Assistant is being stored here. Users have the option of deleting their activity as well.
The post highlights that the author saw thousands of entries into the activity list, all sent via the Google Home Mini speaker. Later Google got in touch with him and changed the speaker and also issued a new software update to fix this issue. All voice requests made to Google are stored by the company for those who didn’t know this. Presumably this is needed to improve the voice assistant’s capabilities.
The problem with the Mini was “hotword activation” via “long press” on the touch panel. This basically allows Google Assistant to be activated without saying the hotword, but now Google has disabled this feature.
According to the Google Home team’s support page, the issue is taking place on a “small number of Google Home Mini devices” which are using the long press touch mechanism to “behave incorrectly.” Google’s product support page says, “We immediately rolled out a software update on October 7 to mitigate the issue.” Essentially anyone who got the early release Google Home Mini device at the Google event is impacted. Google says those who have pre-ordered should not worry and they have fixed the issue with software update.
Google’s statement adds “We take user privacy very seriously. We’ve removed any activity/queries that were created by long pressing the top of a Google Home Mini between October 4 and October 7, when the software update was rolled out.” Those still facing issues with Google Home Mini can call the company’s support helpline at 1-855-971-9121 to get a replacement Google Home Mini.
The privacy nightmare around Home speakers is not going to be the first or last reported instance for sometime to come. With tech companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung all competing to place more and more smart devices like speakers, television sets inside the home, privacy will be a key question.
In case of both Google Home and Amazon Echo, the speakers are powered by digital assistants, which rely on machine learning and AI and are supposed to improve over time. Of course all need more and more data, which is not great for user privacy.