Google Home Mini secret-recording fiasco is a black eye for Google at the worst possible time


The new Google Home


Google is
permanently disabling a feature
on its new Home Mini smart
speaker, which was announced last week and goes on sale next
Thursday, after a reviewer discovered the device was quietly
recording his conversations without his knowledge or consent.

Google blames this on a faulty button and says it is rolling out
a fix while it explores a long-term solution. Google says it
received only “a few reports” of the issue.

Not only is this embarrassing for Google — it’s happening at the
worst possible time for the search giant, as it tries to match
Amazon’s efforts in the living room by pushing its own
artificial-intelligence capabilities.

Matching Amazon

Google’s Android is the dominant mobile operating system in the
world, and Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser. But
despite its many efforts over the years — like the Chromecast —
Google has yet to conquer the living room.

amazon echo dot
The Amazon Echo and the
smaller Echo Dot.


Amazon got a head start on everyone else in Silicon Valley with
the Echo, a voice-controlled speaker that’s quick to respond and
can help you set timers, check the weather, get the news, and so
much more — all hands-free. Other tech companies, Google
included, have since released Echo competitors, but Amazon hasn’t
rested on its laurels and continues to roll out new Echo devices
in all shapes and sizes.

Amazon’s most popular Echo so far is the $50 Echo Dot, which has
all the same qualities of the larger product in a smaller
package; it can also connect to other speakers to leverage their
presumably better audio systems.

Last week, Google issued its response to the Echo Dot: the Google
Home Mini, a beautiful, upward-facing speaker that comes in more
colors than the Echo Dot, is the same price, and uses Google’s
Assistant instead of Amazon’s Alexa.

Though it doesn’t connect to other speakers, the Google Home Mini
could be a winner. But the Home Mini’s recent recording issue,
which happened at the very beginning of the product’s life span,
is a black eye for Google’s smart-home efforts in general and
could cause real issues for Google down the line.

It all comes down to trust

The secret-recording fiasco could affect Google Home Mini sales.
If you already ordered a Google Home Mini, you probably already
know about the issue, and you would be right to be bummed out or
annoyed or nauseated.

But for people who don’t know about the product yet —
it’s only a week old, after all — that’s where the real problems
could come into play.

Maybe you do a quick Google search to learn more about the Home
Mini. Odds are, if you do your research, you will find some
results about the secret-recording issue. Maybe you decide to buy
another, less troubled product. That’s not good for Google.

google home mini search results
These search results could
come back to haunt the Google Home Mini and other Google

Dave Smith/Business

Or let’s say you order a Google Home Mini right now without doing
any research. You get it in the mail, open it, and try using its
various features. You try pressing the button on top of the
device to activate the Assistant, but it doesn’t work. What
gives? You look it up online, only to find Google disabled the
button after someone discovered their Home Mini was constantly
recording them.

That must not feel good as a customer to have a feature you can’t
use — and to know that Google didn’t catch this serious bug in
the first place.

That’s the real issue: This fiasco has the potential to follow
Google, as well as its Home efforts, down the line. And if you’re
trying to decide whether to buy a Google Home, an Amazon Echo, an
Apple HomePod, or any other similar product, this could be a
deciding factor.

It’s hard to imagine Apple facing similar issues with its
forthcoming HomePod, as the company takes privacy and encryption
very seriously. And as someone who has owned an Amazon Echo for
nearly two years, I think trust is probably the biggest reason I
feel comfortable keeping a device of this kind in my home.

Unless Google manages this crisis carefully, this worry about
constant recording — a trust issue — could spill into other
Google products. Who cares if Google Assistant is the superior AI
assistant if no one feels comfortable using it?

If Google is serious about conquering the living room, it will
need to win back the trust of these early Home Mini adopters and
take steps to protect people’s privacy and prevent this kind of
incident from ever happening again.

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