Google’s Home Mini turned out to be a creepy spy
Home assistants are supposed to be helpful, they tell you the weather, traffic and others things you may want to know. But when a few reviewers got the Google Home Mini home, they were in for an unpleasant surprise. According to a report on Android Police, a Home Mini they were reviewing went rogue and apparently recorded ‘thousands of times a day’ and even responded to random noises. This was a pre-release unit that the reviewer picked up from Google’s October 4 press event.
To be activated by random noises several times in a day is very unusual for smart speakers which are usually designed to wake up at specific keywords such as ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hey Google’ for Google devices or ‘Alexa’ for Amazon’s Echo. Once awake, the devices activate their microphones to record, send the info to its cloud service and then get back to you with a suitable reply. Besides that, smart speakers also have buttons to wake them up.
But the unit used by Android Police had a faulty button on it. It thought that someone was pressing the button and therefore it went on randomly activating itself and recording. How did they figure it out? Unfortunately, the Home Mini does not emit any sounds before starting to record, causing the user to overlook what’s happening. The Home Mini flashes lights every time it listens and that gave it away. Also the activity page of the Mini showed a log of all recordings made.
Once reported to Google, the tech giant sent in engineers to figure out the issue – and also two replacement devices. Once the problem was discovered, Google issued a statement:
"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. If you're still having issues, please feel free to contact Google Support at 1-855-971-9121 to get a replacement Google Home Mini."
Essentially the fix promised by Google disables the touch to wake feature of the Mini and you have to call the Assistant by using the keyword. A help article posted by Google mentions that the affected units include ‘early release Google Home Mini device at recent Made by Google events.’ The article further adds that pre-ordered Google Home Mini products will not be affected.
While Google’s initial response to Android Police was reportedly fast (within 10 minutes), disabling the touch control a day later is unlikely to be a permanent solution. This is possibly a temporary fix until Google figures out a way to adjust the sensors through a software upgrade. At least the problem was noted before the release on October 19. If Google is unable to fix it via updates, they might have to call back the units that are sent out. And if the problem is widespread they might even have to delay the launch.