When you have smart devices in your house, on the back of your mind, you're always thinking if I'm being listened. Because these devices have built-in capability to record everything all the time, the data is being transmitted back to the company that makes them or to hackers that have gained access to those devices.
Google recently announced their new Home Mini and it looks like it's already been caught doing something wrong. This shouldn't really come as a surprise because Google has been caught in variety of privacy-infringing scandals in the past, but they do make money off of you data.
So what's Google doing about this? They will be fixing the problem before the Home Mini is shipped to you.
How did the Google Home Mini get caught exactly? Even though the device isn't going to ship before October 19th, reviewers already have their hands on the speaker, which allowed them to discover a very serious bug.
Artem Russakovskii over at Android Police first noticed the issues several days after getting the unit. Here's what he had to say:
Several days passed without me noticing anything wrong. In the meantime, as it turns out, the Mini was behaving very differently from all the other Homes and Echos in my home – it was waking up thousands of times a day, recording, then sending those recordings to Google. All of this was done quietly, with only the four lights on the unit I wasn’t looking at flashing on and then off.
He noticed that the Home Mini was constantly interrupting a show he was watching on a TV nearby, Russakovskii checked Google's My Activity portal for Assistant-specific queries. What he found was astounding:
I opened it up, and my jaw dropped. I saw thousands of items, each with a Play button and a timestamp, all attributed to the cryptically named com.google.android.apps.chirp/mushroom/prod and Assistant.
On Friday afternoon, he contacted Google about the problem, and he got a response that surprised him. Not only did Google answer his email, but they sent a team over to pick up the device to examine it.
Google found the problem and revealed that there was a problem with the touch panel at the top which can be used to activate the Assistant by long-pressing it. So here's what happened. Some of the Home Mini devices register phantom touches, which led to the speaker recording everything around it, all the time.
Check out this video by Android Police on the demonstration:
Google has disabled the long press functionality via a software update. They are now working on a long-term fix for the issue. It's good to see that Google is taking action to eradicate the issue. Coming from a company that has suffered several scandals in the past, and especially just releasing new hardware, they don't want another PR nightmare on their hands.