A bug turned the Google Home Mini into a surveillance nightmare

by Danny Zepeda | October 11, 2017

Last week, Google announced a bunch of new products, including the Google Home Miniā€”its new ultra-small smart home speaker. The new speaker has a killer price point ($50) and looks like a fantastic smart home speaker option, that is, when it is not listening to you all the time.

That’s the latest embarrassment Google is facing as a reviewer discovered the Google Home Mini turned into a surveillance nightmare.

As is the case for most products, Google sends out review units to a few news outlets. One of those was Android Police, and Artem Russokovskii was lucky enough to try out the unit. Everything was going great, until he noticed that LEDs at the top of the Google Home Mini were always on. This was only supposed to happen when you touched the top of the Google Home Mini to activate its listening capabilities.

Normally, the Google Home Mini can only listen after a keyword is stated (“Ok, Google”) or you touch the top. That’s when it takes in your request, connects to the cloud and tries to answer your question. After noticing the odd detail, Russokovskii took to Google to check what exactly was going, and that’s when he put together his Google Home Mini had been listening to everything without the need of a keyword or touch gesture.

What’s more unnerving is that if it wasn’t for the LEDs being turned on, Russokovskii would have never noticed the Google Home Mini was always listening.

Russokovksii contacted Google and the search giant immediately sprung into damage control and pushed out an update to fix the bug. Google ultimately blamed an error with the touch gesture that activates Google Home Mini’s capability to listen. The bug caused the unit to think it was always being touched, thus it was always listening.

Google released a statement addressing the issue:

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.

The update Google pushed out fixed the bug by completely removing the touch gesture to activate Google Home Mini. Now the only way to do so is to say the keyword. It’s not the most elegant fix, but it solves the issue.

Google has since published a post detailing the issue has been fixed and has made it crystal clear that this issue only affected the “small number” of early review units, and that the final versions customers received will not be affected by the issue.

It is commendable of Google to fix the issue so quickly, but it doesn’t look great for the company. One of the biggest concerns people have with smart home speakers is privacy. With an issue popping up that a unit was listening to everything, it is sure to scare a few people away.

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Danny Zepeda

Danny's interest in writing began with tech, which influenced his career path in college. After graduating from Vanguard University, he began to...Danny's interest in writing began with tech, which influenced his career path in college. After graduating from Vanguard University, he began to...