Google Home Mini fault left smart speakers always recording

12 October, 2017, 00:58 | Author: Pamela Mathis
  • Some Google Home Minis have been found to activate at random times and transmit the audio to Google's servers.                  Chris Monroe  CNET

On paper, the donut-sized Google Home Mini and premium Apple HomePod-rivaling Google Home Max look pretty sweet, with early reviews consolidating at least the former's position as a very strong Echo Dot contender.

No paying customers have been affected by the bug, since the Google Home Mini doesn't officially launch until next week. For several days, for thousands of times a day, it would wake up unsolicited, quietly recording sounds from his home and transmit them to Google's servers.

It's not uncommon for companies like Google and Amazon to keep the audio smart speakers hear. Over at Android Police, Artem Russakovskii noticed something amiss about the Google Home Mini he was reviewing.

Before you freak out, you should know that smart speakers have to send your voice queries to cloud servers to return responses.

Russakovskii then proceeded to check in on Google's My Activity portal which has a dedicated section for the Assistant.

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A bug effectively turned the Google Home Mini into a spying device.

Stunned by the discovery, Russakovskii wanted to figure out if there was any warning this was happening.

This could have been a PR nightmare for Google, but as per Russakovskiis account, the company was committed and transparent throughout the whole process.

"The Google Home team is aware of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch control mechanism to behave incorrectly". We are rolling out a software update today that should address the issue.

What does that mean? In the Home Mini case, it was a long press on the touch panel, which allowed you to ask the assistant a question without saying the hotword. Then, like a twist in an episode of Black Mirror, Russakovskii discovered on his Google activity history that the Mini had been recording thousands of times per day without any direction or audible announcement. The malfunction is thought to have affected around 4,000 units. After swapping the device with Google, Google engineers determined that Russakovskii's Home Mini had a defective touch panel that was registering "phantom" touch events. However, the incident should raise concerns for privacy-conscious users, and businesses that may be considering using these kinds of products.

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