Google admits its new smart speaker was eavesdropping on users

Some Google Home Minis have been found to activate at random times and transmit the audio to Google's servers.                  Chris Monroe  CNET

Some Google Home Minis have been found to activate at random times and transmit the audio to Google's servers. Chris Monroe CNET

The Home Mini is set to launch on October 19 and ahead of that official launch, as Google and other manufacturers normally do, the device was placed in the hands of reviewers around the globe.

When the new Google Home Mini was announced recently, Google gave the device out to a number of people to test out.

It turns out some Google Home Minis in the first batch have defective touch sensors on the top.

The issue was discovered by Artem Russakovskii, who received a review unit of the £49 speaker from Google. Following the event, it sent members of the press home with a review unit of the Google Home Mini, expected to launch on October 19. In the Home Mini case, it was a long press on the touch panel, which allowed you to ask the assistant a question without saying the hotword.

While this in itself is a fairly minor inconvenience, it has major implications for the privacy of users and could, in theory, let Google monitor everything that is said in your home.

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A software update for the Home Mini disables physical gestures so the units can only respond to the voice command "OK Google" while Google works on a long term solution.

As we mentioned earlier, Google was quick to take up the matter and pushed an update to fix the issue.

Now, it's important to note that Google has since become aware of the issue and released a patch to fix it.

One of those reviewers is reporting that the Home Mini he was writing about was nearly constantly recording sounds in his home.

As explained by Google, the issue affected devices that were given out at the U.S. Made by Google launch event.

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Russakovskii swapped the device with Google, whose engineers determined that the device was registering "phantom" touches.

We have learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Minis that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly.

As a result, virtually everything happening near the Home Mini was recorded. That is until he noticed something pretty unusual: It was waking up thousands of times a day, recording, then sending those clips to Google's servers.

The Home Mini, Google's donut-shaped Amazon Echo Dot rival, is cute, teensy, and adorable.

In response, Google has disabled the malfunctioning touch activation feature for Google Assistant for all users, which caused the problematic recording.

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