We place an awful lot of trust in our smart home hubs and speakers, allowing them to live in our living rooms, our bedrooms, and even our bathrooms. But we may want to think twice about this blind acceptance following a rather bizarre incident involving one of the new Google Home Mini devices debuted at the tech giant’s October 4 event and Android Police writer Artem Russakovskii. Per Russakovskii’s report, a rogue Mini “spied on everything [he] said,” and transmitted much of this information to Google, too.
Apparently, the Mini allows for hot-word activation through a long press on the touch panel. This feature allows folks to activate Google Assistant without actually saying the hot word “Hey Google.” However, on some Minis, the devices registered “phantom” touch events, which meant that Google Assistant was always on.
Following this revelation, Google announced that it had permanently disabled the feature in response to the incident. But now, a couple months later, it appears that the issue has been resolved and that the feature — at least in part — has been reinstated.
“We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini,” A Google spokesperson said at the time. “We have made the decision to permanently remove all top touch functionality on the Google Home Mini. As before, the best way to control and activate Google Home Mini is through voice, by saying “Ok Google” or “Hey Google,” which is already how most people engage with our Google Home products.”
As part of the new 1.29 Google Home Mini software update, you’ll now be able to long-press the side of the smart speaker in order to activate its functionality. This is still different from the original top tap functionality, which as the name suggested, allowed users to tap the top of the Google Home Mini in order to trigger Assistant.
Russakovskii realized that something was wrong when his Mini was being triggered by seemingly nothing at all, turning on intermittently and attempting to control various aspects of his home. And while this was initially nothing more than an (albeit serious) nuisance, it soon became clear that something slightly more insidious was taking place — namely that the device was recording “almost every minute of every day and [storing] it remotely.”
You can check out the latest firmware update in Google’s preview firmware channel. That channel can be joined from the Home app settings should you require touch control in your life.
Update: Google Home Mini restores some top tap functionality.