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A reviewer noticed something problematic about his Google Home Mini, something it wasn’t supposed to be doing at all. He discovered that it was listening to everything and sending those recordings to Google’s servers. ( Made by Google | YouTube )
The Home Mini, Google’s donut-shaped Amazon Echo Dot rival, is cute, teensy, and adorable. Looking at its inviting fabric covered-design and the array of funky colors it comes in, one would think it’s a pretty harmless piece of technology.
But it might be harboring an alarming privacy concern.
Google Home Mini: Why Is It Recording Everything?
Android Police’s Artem Russakovskii was reviewing the Google Home Mini. Everything was going fine at first; the product was working perfectly as intended. That is until he noticed something pretty strange: It was waking up thousands of times a day, recording, then sending those clips to Google’s servers. All this was done quietly, Russakovskii said, with the four LED lights on the unit firing on and off unbeknownst to him.
He came to this conclusion after experiencing certain mishaps with the Google Home Mini, in which the smart speaker would fail to pick up on commands. So, Russakovskii visited Google’s My Activity portal on the web and made a startling discovery.
There, clear as day, were thousands of items, each with a play button and a timestamp — recordings. Russakovskii’s Home Mini review unit was recording everything, and it all happened without his knowledge.
Smart speakers, the Google Home Mini included, are designed to respond to a specific wake word. The default wake words for Google’s devices are “OK Google” or “Hey Google.” Only when either of these two is uttered by the user will the speaker respond. This is also the only point where the device begins recording, and that clip will be sent to Google’s cloud. After which, the device gives an answer if it’s a question, or perform a task if it’s a command.
In addition to voice commands, smart speakers also often have dedicated buttons that activate the feature. In Google Home Mini’s case, users can hold their finger down at the top to access Google Assistant.
Home Mini Is Eavesdropping On Users: Here’s Google’s Solution
This seems to be the problem: Russakovskii’s Home Mini thinks somebody is pressing that button, hence, it was frequently listening to commands and recording. Google, in all fairness, was quick to resolve this issue. Here’s its statement:
“We learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly. We rolled out an update on October 7 to mitigate the issue.”
So now, users have to say the wake word to activate the smart speaker; a simple touch will no longer activate it. Google has achieved this by adjusting the device’s software.
Google has now also posted a help article about the issue, claiming that early review units are the only affected ones, assuring customers that preordered units at retail won’t encounter a similar problem.
Even so, this is certainly a bad PR problem for Google, especially when lots of people are already paranoid about microphones and speakers eavesdropping on their owners without their knowledge.
Do you have a Google Home Mini? Have you encountered the same issue? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!
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