After timidly challenging Amazon’s constantly growing Alexa-powered Echo family with a single Google Home model last year, Big G just expanded its Google Assistant-controlled smart speaker line to a full-on armada.
On paper, the donut-sized Google Home Mini and premium Apple HomePod-rivaling Google Home Max look pretty sweet, with early reviews consolidating at least the former’s position as a very strong Echo Dot contender. When the “powerful little helper” works properly, that is.
Unfortunately, a major and deeply unsettling issue impacted a “small number of Google Home Mini devices” given away at last week’s Made by Google event, organized in honor of the company’s two new smart home products, as well as the Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones, and the Pixelbook.
The “issue” has been “mitigated” remarkably fast via a software update rolled out on October 7, and no pre-ordered units set to start shipping next Thursday were affected by it in the first place. Still, it may take quite a bit of time for Google to get folks concerned with their privacy to trust the Mountain View-based search giant again.
That’s because some sort of a touch control mechanism flaw made the Google Home Mini device in the possession of Android Police founder Artem Russakovskii record every nearby sound without its owner’s approval. There was no “OK Google” or “Hey Google” voice activation involved, and no touch panel long press.
Instead, said touch panel “behaved incorrectly”, registering “phantom” presses, and not only listening to everything that went down around the faulty Google Home Mini unit, but constantly recording audio, which was then stored on the company’s servers. Pretty scary stuff, though it was clearly unintentional, defective behavior, which led to the swift deactivation of the touch control mechanism.
Google may or may not be working on a more comprehensive fix still allowing you to wake up the diminutive smart speaker by long-pressing on it when you don’t feel like talking. In the meantime, perhaps OnePlus can learn a thing or two about tackling people’s privacy concerns.