Google is permanently disabling a feature on the forthcoming
Google Home Mini smart speaker, after a
reviewer discovered that it was surreptitiously
recording his conversations without his knowledge or
The issue, says Google, was that the button on top of the
device was faulty and would sometimes activate on its own. In
response, Google acknowledged that this bug affected a small
number of units, and issued a software update that would disable
that button entirely, for all users, while it explored a
Now, that change will be permanent.
This entire episode is an embarassing for Google, as it
grapples with Apple and Amazon to conquer the small, but growing,
market for AI-powered voice assistants.
Here’s Google’s statement:
“We take user privacy and product quality concerns very
seriously. Although we only received a few reports of
, we want people to have
complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.
We have made the decision to permanently remove all top
touch functionality on the Google Home Mini. As before, the best
way to control and activate Google Home Mini is through voice, by
saying ‘Ok Google’ or ‘Hey Google,’ which is already how most
people engage with our Google Home products. You can still adjust
the volume by using the touch control on the side of the
Google unveiled the $50 Mini, which goes on sale on October 19,
at its event last Wednesday. Soon after, Android Police’s
Artem Russakovskii, who was one of the reporters who
received a test unit, discovered
that his device was turning on by itself,
recording his conversations, and uploading them to
Normally, there are two ways to interact with Google’s smart
speakers, including the Mini. You can say the words “OK
Google,” followed by a command such as “play ‘Bohemian
Rhapsody.'” Alternatively, you can press the button located on
the top of the devices instead of saying “OK Google.”
But Russakovskii discovered that his Mini was listening in
on him even when he hadn’t pressed the device’s button or said,
“OK Google.” When he checked his
page on Google, the site that shows users’ interactions
with the search giant’s services and the data it collects
on users, he found sound files that had been uploaded to
Google’s servers from the Mini without his consent.
Google blamed the glitch on a faulty button in some of the units.
The buttons on those Minis were detecting touches even when
there was no touch to
detect. Russakovskii apparently got one
of the defective devices.
On October 7th, three days after it handed out the Mini review
rolled out a software update that disables the button.
The change affects every Mini it’s handed out, even those that
weren’t malfunctioning. Meanwhile, the company says it’s
deleted all the data recorded from alleged button pushes on the
Mini review units — whether they were actual button pushes or not
— from the time it handed out the devices to reviewers until it
issued the update.
Ultimately, the problem appears to be a simple error, not a
malicious act of spying. And yet, the glitch could both hamper
sales of the device, as well as undermine trust in Google —
trust that’s at a premium, as Google and Amazon both work to
convince consumers to let them place microphones in their