Critics have long argued that voice control systems, whether built-in to smart TVs or personal assistants like Google Home, could be used to eavesdrop on people. But reports have emerged that Google's Home Mini speakers have been listening in on users, recording their conversations and sending the recordings back to Google, around the clock.
The reports come from press and bloggers who received a free pre-release Home Mini unit at Google's recent Pixel launch event last week.
According to Artem Russakovskii, founder of the website Android Police, the device started recording what was happening in a bathroom 24-hours a day. He said that he only discovered days after instaling the speaker, it was recording "thousands of times a day" and sending those recordings to Google.
However, according to Google this was just all one big mistake due to a bug in the pre-release version of the speaker. After swapping the device with Google, Russakovskii said the tech giant's engineers determined the device was registering "phantom" touches, that is, the device essentially thought its touch-sensitive surface was being touched when it wasn't, and therefore kept activating itself.
Nevertheless, Google claims to have fixed the "phantom" touch issue by removing the "long-press to talk" functionality from all of the active Home Mini devices, subsequently disabling the bug.
Since then, Google updated its Home Mini support page with a statement claiming it has "removed any activity/queries that were created by long pressing the top of a Google Home Mini between October 4 and October 7".
Despite the quick fix, Google only has a week or so to find a more permanent solution before the device hits mainstream customers, due for launch until 19 October.
This latest privacy malfunction will do little to dampen ongoing concerns that such devices could easily invade people's privacy, but at the same time it's reassuring that Google has acted to correct the issue so quickly.
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