Some Google Home Minis found to be secretly recording everything they hear

Angelica Greene
October 12, 2017

The seriousness with which Google handled the Home Mini incident (they sent someone to physically pick it up from the guy's house!) shows that it was definitely a case of a device gone rogue and not something more nefarious, but it's still a good privacy reminder.

This is what happened to journalist Artem Russakovskii at Android Police after he came back home from the Google launch in event in San Francisco with his shiny new Home Mini and placed it in his bathroom (!). For example, Android Police founder Artem Russakovskii discovered a hardware defect in the upcoming Google Home Mini that caused the device to record nearly all nearby audio and upload it directly to Google.

Smart speakers are only meant to listen when you want them to, which is why they have wake-up words and phrases. It would even become alert when the TV was switched on, trying to respond to what was being said.

So, Russakovskii went to Google's My Activity portal on the web to see the behavior of his Google Assistant.

There, clear as day, were thousands of items, each with a play button and a timestamp - recordings. He got in touch with the company at this point. He noticed that his Google Home Mini was active and recording sound throughout the day, not only when he uttered the "OK, Google" keyword.

Unfortunately, a major and deeply unsettling issue impacted a "small number of Google Home Mini devices" given away at last week's Made by Google event, organized in honor of the company's two new smart home products, as well as the Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones, and the Pixelbook.

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For now, Google's "mitigation" to the issue has been to update all Google Home Minis to totally disable the "long-press to talk" functionality.

To Google's credit it has scrambled the engineering jets to detect the issue and find a solution.

Still, it would be best to be cautious and make sure your Home Mini isn't keeping track of everything you say 24/7. Google has changed the software so an uncomplicated touch won't initiate the Assistant you have utter the wake word instead.

EPIC has pending complaints with the FTC and DOJ alleging that always-on devices like Google Home, Echo and Siri violate consumer protection law and federal wiretap law. His report of the "near-constant" listening and recording prompted a quick response from Google.

Google is still working on a permanent fix for affected units, as well as the origin of the touchpad issue.

Other reports by GizPress

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