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Google forced to issue a software patch for Home Mini feature that listened to users

Last week, Google launched Home Mini, a $49 voice-enabled speaker that turned out to have the interesting habit of recording every damn sound in your house, and sending them to Google servers. Funny, isn’t it? This is what happened to journalist Artem Russakovskii at Android Police after he came back home from the Google launch in event in […]

Last week, Google launched Home Mini, a $49 voice-enabled speaker that turned out to have the interesting habit of recording every damn sound in your house, and sending them to Google servers. Funny, isn’t it?

This is what happened to journalist Artem Russakovskii at Android Police after he came back home from the Google launch in event in San Francisco with his shiny new Home Mini and placed it in his bathroom (!).

Home assistants all work in a similar way: you say a hotword — “Alexa” for Amazon Echo, “Hey Google” for Google Homes — and they switch on, ready to record your question/order, send it to the cloud, and then answer/execute your order.

However, Russakovskii’s Mini was special. For several days, for thousands of times a day, it would wake up unsolicited, quietly recording sounds from his home and transmit them to Google’s servers.

All of this without emitting any sound — only the four lights on the unit were sort of giving it away.

Russakovskii checked on Google My Activity page and found thousands of instances where the Mini had been activated, unprompted by the hotword.

 

So he decided to contact Google, which swiftly took action to fix the problem.

“We learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly. We rolled out an update on October 7 to mitigate the issue, before Google Home Mini shipped to anyone in the UK,” a Google spokesperson told Mashable.

So what was the problem?

As explained by Google, the issue affected devices that were given out at the U.S. Made by Google launch event.

Besides the hotword, home assistant devices have a button that you can touch to trigger the assistant. In the Home Mini case, it was a long press on the touch panel, which allowed you to ask the assistant a question without saying the hotword.

However, Russakovskii’s and other devices “thought” the touch panel was always on, as if someone was constantly pressing it.

Google’s temporary fix is simple — deactivating the touch feature.

In response to privacy concerns raised by Russakovskii, Google also deleted any activity/queries created by the “phantom” long pressing between October 4 and October 7, as the company itself explained in a support page.

It is believed that around 4,000 Home Minis have been affected.

If you’re still having issues, Google says to contact Google Home Support at 1-855-971-9121 to get a replacement Google Home Mini.

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Erwin Smith

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