Published on February 14th, 2015 📆 | 6289 Views ⚑


Google’s new “OK Google” Voice Search Extension is a listening post

Privacy Alert, it seems Samsung SmartTV’s are not the only spies lurking in our homes and offices, Google’s voice search features seems to be another culprit.

Google has a voice search feature “OK Google” in Google Search page; Yes, just by enabling “OK Google” and “voicing your search” i.e speaking it aloud, you can easily get it on Google.

This is a hands free feature and can be used for lot more things than only searching which includes getting reminders and also directions. User would need microphone attached to their gadgets. The feature is easily activated on all the smart phones, desktop, laptops.

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User just needs to install the Google Voice Search Hotword (Beta) extension. To activate this extension user needs to add the “Google Voice Search”  from the Chrome Web store; this is a free service. Once this gets added to the Google chrome user needs to enable the “OK Google” by going in the settings. Now the microphone starts capturing the sound of the required search and converts this to text and sends it to Google; lo and behold you get the answer to your query. So far so good! but wait there seems to be an privacy issue.

The main hitch here is that microphone would capture a few seconds prior to actual query and send the same to Google. So if this sound contains any personal or sensitive information it will not be able to distinguish and it will send every sound that it captured right from the time the microphone has been activated till the deactivation of microphone.

If user wants a complete hands free then the microphone needs to be activated always. However, it would mean that all the sound that is being generated by the user including private and intimate convos are being captured and sent to Google.

And if user deactivates the microphone then user would still needs to click a button for activating the microphone prior to voicing the search. Hence its still a question as to how feasible would this be because its not yet clear as to how much data will be recorded prior to actual query, in case the microphone is always on “ON” mode.

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The “OK Google” feature reminds us of Samsung Smart TV with the feature of Voice instructions wherein the voice command gets converted to text by some device installed within the smart TV and this is sent to third party to decode the text and obey the required command. Same issue occurred here,  sounds other than the instructions would be captured and sent to third party which is actually irrelevant and also may contain any sensitive or personal information. Even disabling the Voice recognition feature would not help as the device was smart enough to recognize the voice command. Besides, detaching the Smart TV from wireless network would mean it lost its original purpose.

Having said that, Google’s new beta feature of “OK Google” with is very useful for a user who has lost his/her hands (amputee) due to some unfortunate reason.  The drawbacks might just fade away because of the advantages this feature has.  However if you are a privacy conscious person, it always takes that extra bit to be very careful.

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