Is your smart speaker SECRETLY recording you? I now have proof!
Smart speakers are great – you ask them to check the weather or add milk to your shopping list or settle a dinner debate about who won the Oscars for best picture. While the convenience is great, many people refuse to have these smart speakers in their homes as they worry that conversations are secretly being recorded without your permission.
But are they really?
There are three big questions:
- How much listening does a smart speaker actually do?
- What does it do with that information?
- And most importantly, is it sending info to the mother ship even when we don’t issue the command?
I decided to find out so I set up a trap to spy on the spy-er so I could see what it is actually doing. Let me show you what I discovered.
Let’s explore these in more detail:
1. Is Google Home Mini constantly listening?
The answer is Yes it is but it’s not what you think.
According to Google, “The Assistant starts in standby mode, waiting to be activated. In standby mode, it processes short snippets of audio (a few seconds) to detect an activation (such as “Ok Google”). If no activation is detected, then those audio snippets won’t be sent or saved to Google.”
In other words, it is listening for its trigger word and then it starts to record what you want it to do. It takes that recording, saves it, and converts it from audio to text so that it can do the search.
When it finds the information, it then uses a technology called Parallel Tacotron to convert the text into human-like speech. So that it can read it back to you in a more humanlike way.
2. What does Google do with the information?
Google has committed to being transparent about the data it collects and so it saves all your Assistant and Voice instructions to your Google Account and there you can not only see the info but can also delete it and set up rules not to have it saved.
Simply go to https://myactivity.google.com
Here you can see all the activities Google has saved and you can choose to delete them and even set a rule to automatically delete these activities or not to have them saved in the first place.
One thing to note is that Google actually hires independent contractors around the world to listen to and transcribe audio recordings picked up by Google Assistant.
A Google spokesman confirmed this in a statement to Business Insider and said that its language experts transcribe “a small set of queries” – around 0.2% of all audio snippets – and that this work is “critical” to developing technology that powers products such as Google Assistant.
The data is anonymized, contains no sensitive info, and even the audio is masked to disguise the voices.
3. How do you know that the Google Home Mini isn’t still sending my info to the mothership without your knowledge?
What’s stopping it from simply uploading your conversations and just not telling you about it? That is a fair question since we really have no exposure to what is going on.
So I created an entire WiFi network just for my Google Home Mini. To ensure there was nothing else on that network, I gave it a new name and I locked it so that the only device that could access it was the Mini. Anything else that even tries to connect to the wifi, even with the right password, was simply not be allowed onto the network.
I then began to monitor all the traffic going from the Google Home to the internet and all the traffic coming back to it.
What we would expect to happen is that whenever I asked it a question, I expected to see a big spike in traffic going out and coming back in as it gets the info. In between these requests, I expected to see no traffic – I mean it should be doing nothing after all.
Now if the Google Home was secretly recording then I would see a big spike of data as that secret recording was being uploaded to the cloud.
You can see in the video above how the test went.
So in summary:
Is Google Home Mini listening to you? Yes – but only to do its job listening for that trigger phrase.
Is it an open speaker to Google to spy on your conversations? No.