File photo – Google Home is displayed during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, California, U.S. Oct. 4, 2016. (REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach)
I made this discovery by accident.
For the past year, I’ve been using the Google Home speaker to ask Google questions about my daily activities. I’ve asked about the weather, inquired about directions to a local pizza place, and tried to find recipes for blueberry pancakes. Nothing too major. A few times, my wife would ask Google about store hours at Costco and to find out about political news.
This week, I found out that Google records every one of those questions.
Using the My Activity portal, you can also find out everything about your life. Did you ask about the Miami Dolphins, or President Trump, or ask for directions to the cleaners? It’s all there. Did you also ask Google about a local meeting of alt-right conspiracy theorists? Inquire about cancer treatments? Look-up places that sell sex robots? It’s all recorded.
It’s also a bit startling, because you hear your own voice, recorded as far back as a year ago. And, while Google reps claim this is something users have to agree to during setup, it’s a little-known option called Voice and Audio Activity. Even if you disabled the option to save your internet history in Chrome, you’re likely still being tracked in My Activity.
It saves every movie you watch, the music you listen to, every YouTube video you find, all of your image searches, and just about everything you do online. (If you use Incognito mode in the Chrome browser, none of that activity is saved. You can also disable My Activity logging.)
To hear your own voice, just visit the My Activity site. It also saves all of your internet browsing history for some reason, even if you have that disabled in the Chrome browser.
The recordings and activity are saved every time you use the Google Assistant voicebot on your phone and in the Google Allo app, not just when you use the Google Home speaker.
“Google’s MyActivity portal is both a blessing and a curse,” Richard Henderson, a global security strategist at security firm Absolute, told Fox News. “It’s a blessing because it really does provide a ‘one-stop shop’ of all your activity across all your various Google properties, like your Android phone, your browsing and Gmail, as well as the Google Home assistant. But it’s also a curse because it really demonstrates the level of data that many massive technology companies collect in order for them to profit.”
Henderson says users are typically not aware that they are being recorded. Worse yet, if you do disable the voice recording, it “neuters” the speaker or other devices that rely on Google Assistant for voice commands. (Google reps confirmed this but said the speaker can still stream music.) There’s no way of knowing how the recordings are saved and used, he says.
Earlier this month, a reporter at Android Police discovered that a new Google Home Mini speaker was recording not just his own phrases when he said the “OK Google” hotword but everything being said at all times. Google permanently immediately resolved the bug.
Amazon Echo speakers also record everything you say. The problem with voice-activated products is that they tend to obscure the privacy policies or list them only in an app.
“These devices require the user to opt-in to voice control or, with devices like the Amazon Echo, only listen for control words, such as “Alexa,” and only start recording once they hear the control word,” says Andrew Howard, chief technology officer at Kudelski Security, told Fox News. “The challenge for consumers is that these devices can change their policies, often quietly, and it is impossible to confirm compliance with the stated privacy policies. Generally, consumers should use these new capabilities with a bit of caution.”
Google reps released a statement to Fox News about this issue:
“Google only stores voice-based queries received after recognizing the hotword. Hotword detection runs locally on the device and if the hotword is not detected, the audio snippet stays local on the device and is discarded. If the hotword is recognized, the data, including the query contents, are sent to Google servers for analyzing and storage in My Activity.”