Imagine this.

You’re at work and having an informal chat with your colleague.

During the conversation, you also mention that you wish to purchase a mid-range smartphone for your wife this holiday season.

Your colleague, who by chance happens to be your friend as well, tells you about a few phones that were on the top of his mind.

After a few minutes, the conversation ends and you guys get back to work.

As soon as you log in to your computer and start browsing the web, you’re bombarded with ads about mobile phone and their accessories.

You freak out and ask your colleague wt* is going on and he has no clue as well.

I’m sure some of our readers might have experienced this creepy phenomenon.

Now the question is, how and why does this happen?

It’s because Google is listening to your conversations.

Now you might ask does Google records everything you say. Or does Google only record your searches?

These might seem like silly questions to ask, but those who know a cent or two about the technology understand the influence that Google has in our lives. And the eavesdrop doesn’t come free. The myth is that Google voice records everything that you say to a bot, even those things that you don’t want the world to listen to.

If you don’t believe me, here is Mark Zuckerberg, who has taped his laptop for some reason. Why? Because he knows things that you and I don’t, but surely, he had some concerns with his privacy.

Google is listening

Coming back to the question, is Google listening to everything that you say, or a quick question is why is Google listening in the first place? Some say that Google looks to your conversations for their ads; others claim that there is no certainty of why Google or any of the tech companies is doing so.

The internet went furious when a personal conversation between Danielle and her husband was recorded by Alexa and sent randomly to her husband’s colleague.

Danielle pulled the plug on Alexa immediately after her husband’s friend called that someone is hacking it.

How Google Home Works?

When you request Google Home or any other Alexa device, they record the stream of audio clips of whatever you say and send them to a server. Here is where the actual magic happens. The audio clips are analyzed and a response is created for the user.

Every device needs “wake words” to activate them, from “Alexa” to “OK Google” these are activation phrases that bring voice assistants to life.

This means that mics are always listening and picking up conversations even when you are not requesting anything from them. Although these conversations are not sent over to a network, they are stored somewhere.

Why Does Google Device Need to Eavesdrop?

Listening to words before you say the wake-up phrase is essential for the whole concept to work. The process is borrowed from the pre-buffer option of cameras burst modes, which captures a few frames before you press that shutter button.

Just like in-camera, the pre-buffer helps in not missing a shot due to slow shutter; the voice assistants help systems handle requests instantly. Without perked ears for that “Alexa,” “OK Google,” or “Siri,” these assistants would need physical buttons to activate them.

If you are serious about your security, you must go for a push-button voice assistant for your home. Devices like Google Home, Alexa and Amazon Echo, are listening to you even when they are turned off.

Can Hackers listen to me?

Of course, there are security measures that prevent hackers from listening to your devices. The data in the voice assistants are encrypted, so even when the home network is compromised, and it is unlikely that the devices can be used for listening.

Having said that, nothing is impossible. And that is why Amazon and Google both have security measures to prevent wiretapping your home. The audio zipping from your home is encrypted at the centers of Amazon and Google, so even if the device is hacked, no one can decrypt your data.

To prevent hackers from listening to you, there is a manual mute button that prevents the Echo and Home from listening to you.

What Happens to your recorded Audio Clip?

If you want to listen to past queries, you can always listen to them by visiting myactivity.google.com while you’re logged into your account. This link doesn’t just contain your audio clips. It stores your web searched, YouTube videos and apps that you’ve used.  It’s all presented in a neat, searchable chronological stack.

There are benefits to these personal audio catalogs. In cases where search queries are unable to work, Google Home presents personalized content based upon your data.

How to Delete or Stop Google from Listening to You?

An easy way to prevent Google Home from eavesdropping your conversation is to tap the “Mute” button at the back of the device. This will indicate the Assistant not to record the conversation. To resume listening simply press the button again.

What if you want Google Home to work without stopping the recording, more like an “Incognito Mode.” Unfortunately, this is not possible. When you pause Google from myactivity.google.com, it will just temporarily disable the Assistant on Android phones.

The semi-good news is that you can delete saved audio clips after the fact. To do that, go to myactivity.google.com, tap the three vertical dots in the “My Activity” title bar, and select “Delete activity by” in the drop-down menu. Click the “All Products” drop-down menu, choose “Voice & Audio,” and click delete. Google says this may affect some of Google Home’s personalization features because it mainly wipes its memory.

Conclusion

It is not just about Google Home or Alexa, security is a significant concern with these devices, so either you don’t use the device at all, or you use it with some security measures.

December 11, 2019
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