Early Google Home Mini units have had a major feature nixed after it was discovered the device was almost constantly recording audio and sending it to Google’s servers.
The privacy flaw in Google’s new miniaturised speaker was discovered by Android Police, with the publication noting that the Home Mini was waking up even when no wake word was spoken. It was then discovered that thousands of recordings were being sent and stored on Google’s servers.
When it comes to smart home speakers, this is possibly the worst flaw Google could have hoped for. A corporation listening and recording every word spoken around one of their products is likely going to worry consumers going forward. There are already concerns that the Amazon Echo and Google Home could potentially be tapped by law enforcement.
Google says that the issue is caused by phantom touches being registered by the device. Users can typically activate the Google Assistant one of two ways, either by saying ‘OK Google’ or by long pressing on the top of the device. It was that long press method that was being incorrectly registered.
Whether or not this flaw can be fixed by software, or if it’s a hardware flaw, is unknown. Google does note that this is only affecting devices that it gave away during its recent Pixel event, however, so those with pre-orders should be fine.
Given Google gave its Home Mini speaker to hundreds of journalists, it still has to address the issue. That’s why the company has already released a patch to affected models, with the current short-term fix being to disable the long press functionality. It’s not known whether this feature will return for these users at some point in the future, but for now the only way for affected customers to interact with the Home Mini will be through the ‘OK Google’ wake word.
For those who have had their voices already recorded on Google’s servers unwittingly, then there’s some good news. In a statement, the company notes: “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. That information will no longer be listed on your My Activity page.
“If you’re still having issues, please contact Google Home Support at 1-855-971-9121 to get a replacement Google Home Mini.”