The Home Mini’s touch activation had prompted the error, which saw some units almost permanently recording conversations around them, but Google was quick to release a fix for it. Despite this, Google has now said it will permanently disable that part of the functionality, in a bid to allay further fears.
In a statement to 9to5Google, the company said:
We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, 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 device.
It might seem strange that Google has taken this course of action when it had previously resolved the issue, but given current fears over data leaking and spying — and the fact that the Google Mini has another activation method anyway — this is probably the best way to keep potential customers’ worries at bay.
Previous coverage (10/11): The Google Home Mini smart speaker hasn’t yet been officially released, but it hasn’t stopped it from getting into trouble. A recent problem has seen some of the pre-release units spontaneously activate thousands of times per day, meaning they were picking up almost everything happening in their vicinity.
By default, Google records what a user says after using the “OK, Google” phrase to launch the Google Assistant (or pressing the microphone button in the Google App). This happens when using Google Assistant on any device, and if you weren’t aware of this — and want to be a little bit freaked out — you should go and listen to all your past recordings here.
However, Android Police discovered that, in this case, the Google Home Mini didn’t have to be manually activated for the recording to begin.
Seemingly, the Mini was acting like the touch control mechanism was frequently being pressed, and its lights would switch on to show that it was listening. Yet the usual tone wasn’t played to indicate that it had been activated. After Android Police contacted Google about it, the company acknowledged the bug and subsequently issued a fix.
Android Police speculates that the problem was limited to around 4,000 Google Home Minis that were distributed at Google’s press conference and “donut” pop-up events — so it was a relatively small-scale affair — and Google has reacted quickly to the situation. Google has also offered replacement units to anybody affected by the issue and has deleted any recordings generated by the error during the period before it rolled out the fix. Further, the company has assured that pre-order devices aren’t affected (you can read Google’s full response at support.google.com).
You can’t really ask for a whole lot more from Google in terms of its reaction, here, but having said that, this episode will do little to quell the fears of those currently worried about connected speakers and their implications for privacy. Unintentional as it may have been, connected devices inherently provide another way for personal information to be recorded and uploaded. And some would argue we’re offering up far too much already.