[Note: This article has been updated to reflect Google’s changes to the Mini which have solved the problem. See below for their official statement. – AC]
Since I have a Google Home sitting on my kitchen counter–I love the thing–I’ve been considering the purchase of Google Minis to sprinkle through the home so I can have smart speaker connectivity everywhere in the house. After this report from Geeks&Beats’ Vanessa Azzoli, maybe not.
This morning, I was out and about when I received an email that came across the G&B newsroom with this new report. Evidently, approximately 4,000 devices that were handed out at the Made By Google pop-up events last week have been recording ALL audio, not just what was prompted by the required “Hey Google” or “Ok Google.”
How exactly am I going to explain that I was wrong?
Artem Russakovskii, of Android Police received one of these devices at an event, and installed it at home (in his bathroom, no less.) He noticed that the device was activating a lot more than it should, so he logged into the Google Home app right away.
To give you a background, when you have a Google Home device, there’s an app where you customize your device. Within the app, there’s a portal called “My Activity.” Here, it tracks everything you do through the Google Home, with recorded transcripts. So, when I say, “Hey Google, set a timer for 20 minutes,” it records that event and I can see it listed here.
Russakovskii opened his My Activity portal and saw thousands of audio events tracked, without his knowledge – WITH recorded transcripts. Obviously, he contacted Google PR immediately to start an investigation. It turns out that there was a glitch in the device’s “touch panel”, which allows you to activate the device without the verbal cue. The device was activating through what they’re calling “phantom touch events”, causing it to turn on and record.
Right, so now we’ve got a wire-tapping ghost on our hands?
If you want to read more about what happened, make sure to check out the article here.
UPDATE: Google has taken care of the issue. Here’s their statement.
“We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini. We have made the decision to permanently remove all top touch functionality on the Google Home Mini. As before, the best way to control and activate Google Home Mini is through voice, by saying “Ok Google” or “Hey Google,” which is already how most people engage with our Google Home products. You can still adjust the volume by using the touch control on the side of the device.”