Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

Google removes Home Mini's touch functionality following privacy concerns

Google removes Home Mini's touch functionality following privacy concerns

Smart speakers like the Google Home Mini are created to start recording when a specific word is said like "Hey Google" or "Ok Google".

The issue appears to be with the touch-sensitive button on the top of the speaker that you can use instead of the OK Google command.

Artem Russakovskii of Android Police reported that the Google Home Mini he was reviewing was randomly and nearly constantly recording sounds in his home and transmitting them to Google. The software fix is supposed to be rolled out October 15th, a few days before the Mini ships. For some reason a limited number of Google Home Minis were detecting touches constantly, and always listening for and processing commands, sending snippets of recordings back to Google around the clock.

Google confirmed in a statement that it is permanently removing the top touch functionality of the 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.

Artem Russakovskii discovered the Home Mini was "inadvertently spying on me 24/7 due to a hardware flaw". The Home Mini is designed as a miniature version of the Google Home that is tiny enough to sit anywhere in your house and can play music or make calls and other smart functions with the help of Google Assistant. Furthermore, the device failed to notify users when it was randomly listening in on them.

This raised a serious privacy concern and Google acknowledged earlier this week that the bug affected a small number of units. The Home Mini volume can still be adjusted using the touch control. According to Wired, Google has perfectly pitched the product, emphasizing the device's smart features over its functionality as a speaker.

Announced earlier this month alongside the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones, the Google Home Mini is a compact version of the Google Home smart speaker the company launched in select markets a year ago. This means pre-ordered devices were not affected.

Google was quick to respond to complaints and discovered that the physical button that can be used to invoke the Assistant was registering ghost touches, thus activating the feature.

Russakovskii reports that the device recorded him thousands of times per day without even being instructed to.

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