Google Home Mini Caught Spying on Users

Leigh Mccormick
October 12, 2017

Russakovskii's Home Mini review unit was recording everything, and it all happened without his knowledge. While Google distributed up to 4,000 Home Minis at the pre-release events, it's not clear whether all of them are impacted, and it told Russakovskii other pre-order units for the general retail market were not affected by the bug. For example, in the United States, Google Home Mini costs $49 and ships by October 18.

Google's response time for the issue was quite fast, working over a weekend to resolve the issue, so hopefully this will be the end of this.

A hardware fault in a Google Home Mini review unit provided to Android Police continuously recorded all audio around it and sent it to Google's servers.

Normally, the Google Home Mini would sit nonchalantly wherever you place it and ignore you until it hears it's wakeup command that means a request is coming. However, the incident should raise concerns for privacy-conscious users, and businesses that may be considering using these kinds of products. Google responded by issuing a patch that disabled the touch panel's functionality.

It's great to see Google hurry to fix the issue, but this is still a PR nightmare.

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Google drove to Russakovskii's home to swap the devices, so they could study his unit and better understand the issue.

As well as documenting his finding, Russakovskii reported the issue to Google - and the company was quick to respond and investigate.

Google devices like the Home Mini typically wait for the phrase "OK Google" before beginning to record and then sending audio to Google's servers for processing. And we all remember how much Google insisted on the quality of the Home Mini's design and materials. If users don't want to bother with extending a greeting to a machine, they can also just press a button on top of the Mini and then voice the command or question.

Google acknowledged the issue on a support page, saying, "The Google Home team is aware of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch-control mechanism to behave incorrectly".

While we may share a lot of our data with Google already, we do so with the knowledge that we've agreed to let the search giant hoover up information on our web searches.

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