Google axes touch function from Home Mini following privacy concerns

12 Oct 2017

Many people use home-assistant devices, but they can pose problems. Image: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Google has resolved an issue with its Home Mini that caused it to record audio on a near-continuous basis.

The recent launch of the new suite of consumer hardware from Google was a smorgasbord of internet of things (IoT) innovation, but one of the products has been altered following a strange discovery.

A reporter for Android Police found that a malfunction in the Home Mini caused the sensor on top of the device to register touches almost constantly, rather than when the user touches it deliberately.

Faulty touch function

The touch functionality was an alternative to the ‘Ok Google’ wake-up call voice command to ensure the device was listening to your requests for weather updates, news or other tasks. All voice interactions are sent to Google and remain in your account history. This touch function has now been done away with entirely.

Google Home Mini. Image: Google

Due to the bug, users could have potentially seen a situation where all their conversations were recorded and sent to create a searchable bank of data – not ideal for an item that’s kept in the home, ostensibly a place of sanctuary and privacy.

It is possible to change your device settings so Google doesn’t get access to the recordings, but many users may not be aware of this particular option, allowing recordings to go on file unbeknownst to them.

Google quick to axe feature

Google responded fast, saying that although the problem was found in a small number of devices, it would be rather difficult to do a full recall of the product. Updates to the device are obviously impossible, so Google simply nixed the feature.

Google said: “We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.

“We have made the decision to permanently remove all top-touch functionality on the Google 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.”

Those who were affected can seek out a replacement device, minus the top-touch function. Official sale of the affordable assistant doesn’t begin until later in October, but some will have received their faulty device at Google Home giveaways or press events.

This swift response from Google is a positive step, particularly considering the multitudes of privacy concerns arising from IoT devices and assisted-home products that have been surfacing as of late.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects