Saturday , October 21 2017

Google Home Mini Defect Caused Some Units To Record Audio 24/7

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Intelligent assistant platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant could be the next great frontier in computer interface, but there are bound to be some bumps along the way before we reach a Star Trek-style future. For example, Android Police founder Artem Russakovskii discovered a hardware defect in the upcoming Google Home Mini that caused the device to record almost all nearby audio and upload it directly to Google. That’s a pretty severe privacy violation, but Google says it’s pushing out an update to prevent it from happening again.

The Google Home Mini is a small puck-shaped speaker that lets you interact with Google Assistant. This voice control platform debuted last year on the Pixel and the regular Google Home. The Home Mini costs a mere $50, though, and includes almost all the features of the larger Home. The idea is that you can say “OK Google” or “Hey Google” whenever you’re near the device to begin issuing commands to smart home devices and asking questions. However, there’s also a touch-sensitive button on the top that can initiate a voice command, and this is apparently the problem.

Russakovskii noticed his review unit waking itself up quite frequently, as indicated by the lights on top. Google’s online account security and privacy tools include an activity timeline that can be filtered to specific products and services, and Android Police confirmed that the Home Mini was indeed uploading thousands of audio snippets to Google’s servers as if they were user commands. Of course, none of them returned valid responses from Assistant as they were not valid commands. Every single one was still accessible in Russakovskii’s Google settings, though.

Many consumers are already wary of filling their home with devices that can listen to them and transmit that data to the cloud. Having a smart speaker go rogue and record everything is just confirmation to them that such products are a bad idea. Google knows that because it took the situation extremely seriously. After being notified of the bug and asked for comment, Google dispatched engineers to collect the device and conduct tests.

It turns out some Google Home Minis in the first batch have defective touch sensors on the top. The devices basically act as if someone is long-pressing the button to activate Assistant all the time, so they are recording almost constantly. Google is taking no risks with this defect–all Google Home Minis will have a day-one software update that disables the touch gesture to activate Assistant. You will only be able to wake the speaker up with the OK/Hey Google hotword. Google may be able to bring this feature back in the future if it figures out how to identify defective units. Frankly, Google got extremely lucky this issue was discovered before general availability.

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