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Google Privacy Communications Hardware Technology

Google Permanently Disables Touch Function On All Home Minis Due To Privacy Concerns (bbc.co.uk) 48

Big Hairy Ian shares a report from BBC: Google has stopped its Home Mini speakers responding when users touch them. It permanently turned off the touch activation feature after it found that sensors primed to spot a finger tap were too sensitive. Early users found that the touch sensors were registering "phantom" touches that turned them on. This meant the speakers were recording everything around them thousands of times a day. Google said it disabled the feature to give users "peace of mind." Google's Home Mini gadgets were unveiled on October 4th as part of a revamp of its line of smart speakers. The intelligent assistant feature on it could be activated two ways -- by either saying "OK, Google" or by tapping the surface. About 4,000 Google Home Mini units were distributed to early reviewers and those who attended Google's most recent launch event. Artem Russakovskii from Android Police first discovered the issue with his unit, ultimately causing Google to "permanently [nerf] all Home Minis" because his spied on everything he said 24/7.
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Google Permanently Disables Touch Function On All Home Minis Due To Privacy Concerns

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  • by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @06:45PM (#55359733)

    A double-tap, or a tap followed by verbal, or something that the user finds satisfactory.

    • Most touch sensitive chips are software adjustable for sensitivity, and Google should be able to do that with a software update.
    • A double-tap would definitely not help because the flaw was a hardware one. The hardware was falsely detecting thousands of taps a day.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Falsely, yeah sure, yup, uh huh. Functioned like designed more likely, except people didn't like it. Proper design big old coloured button (rack off SJWs), right in the middle, which glows when it is on, when it doesn't it is off really off, mechanical off. Voice only is problematic because current versions (all manufacturers) tend to react to anything what so ever sounds like the triggering sounds, so it still turns off and all day long, as they prefer (they are data mining devices after all).

        Phone home

    • A double-tap, or a tap followed by verbal, or something that the user finds satisfactory.

      Because, at least in my opinion, Google likes the way Apple does things. And well, Apple likes to say, 'this isn't suitable, you can't do this anymore.' instead of just making it an option you can decide yourself.

      Freedom of choice is too much power for lowly users, sorry. Also sometimes letting someone decide can lead to litigation, so.. cover your ass and all that.

  • Yeah, right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @06:45PM (#55359737)

    So I'm supposed to believe that all of the engineers at Google can't figure out how to adjust the sensitivity of this sensor. I think it's far more likely that they simply got caught.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That probably means the sensor only sends two states to the firmware instead of a purely analog signal.

    • paranoid much? Its obviously they guy got a defective one. If they were trying to bug him the lights whould't have come on to tell him something was odd and it whould't have loaded all the recordings into his own account for him to see. If google wanted to use these to spy on us only a packet sniff would have been able to see the traffic it would not have made it so simple to see. Google is going nuclear on this most likely because they want to avoid any more bad press and possibly because they
    • So I'm supposed to believe that all of the engineers at Google can't figure out how to adjust the sensitivity of this sensor. I think it's far more likely that they simply got caught.

      If Google intended the devices to listen all the time, they were rather stupid. They forgot to stop the "I'm listening" lights from coming on all the time, and forgot to scrub the "extra" audio recordings from the list shown on the user's Google Home page.

      If this is Google being sneaky, they're really, really bad at it.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If Google were trying to hide this they went about it in a strange way - you can simply go to your Google account and review everything you have ever said to any Google/Android device if you have voice history turned on (which it is by default). That's how this journalist noticed.

      This sort of thing happens all the time. You design a new product, you buy in some touch sensors and test them out. Maybe they need calibration during manufacturing, so you design that in too. But then when production ramps up to t

    • And they already have the information they were after. No need to keep pulling down tons of bits when you already have your data farms overfilled with the targeted intel.

  • "mistakenly" hoovers up data... yeah.. ok

  • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @06:53PM (#55359783) Homepage

    So google disables a feature on a product someone pays for because they have found it defective. Sounds to me like google should be providing a replacement instead of just disabling it and calling it a day.

    • From what I understand, it was an early design of a promotional giveaway to journalists. Newer designs won't have this problem, and they already replaced the defective unit with 2 more!
    • So google disables a feature on a pre-production product someone got for free as a promotional giveaway because they have found it defective.

      FTFY.

      Sounds to me like google should be providing a replacement instead of just disabling it and calling it a day.

      Google gave two replacements to the guy who reported the bug. The production devices people buy will not have this defect.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Google permanently disables touch function... ...due to privacy concerns"

    Google
    disables
    due to privacy concerns

    Error: DOES NOT COMPUTE

  • by zlives ( 2009072 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @07:08PM (#55359829)

    its not spyware, its a feature. new speak fixes all.

  • And they had an excuse ready in case they did.

    • It is interesting how the ready response to those of us who’ve expressed concerns about these drvices has been a dismissive “they aren’t sending audio back to the mothership all the time, that’s silly, you have to explicitly trigger them” - yet here we have case #1 showing an example of exactly what we were worried about.

      For that matter, who’s to say some three-letter organization didn’t tweak the manufacturing specs to intentionally cause this?

  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:46PM (#55360339)
    How are they going to patch the fact that anyone with a device like this in their house is an idiot? Or that the NSA knows damn well that nobody of interest to them would talk about their top secret plans in front of a voice to text-capable, internet-connect device?
  • by GrBear ( 63712 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:34PM (#55360543)

    So they removed the feature that would randomly trigger recording.. and instead implemented a feature that listens all the time?

  • We have one in our office and it was going on and off all day long for no apparent reason. It was probably RFI but who knows. It became so annoying that we finally unplugged it and let the battery die.

  • Nothing new, I have had to install firmware updates and disable touch screens AIO computers on some electronics equipment here (in a rural area) because the touch panels went crazy. My best guess is the dusty environment here.

    Like the AIO, they probably need to tone down the sensor so its not reacting so quickly.

  • My laptop does this ALL THE TIME, and I hate it. It just clicks randomly without me even touching it. I assume it has something to do with static electricity..

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