Shhhh! Google is listening



Earlier this week Google unveiled a new voice activated voice recognition activator for desktop Chrome users. In other words, when you say ‘Okay Google’ to your microphone-equipped desktop computer it will fire up the voice recognition feature so you can tell it what to search for.

The new Chrome voice activation feature isn’t really new. Google originally launched the tool in a beta version of Chrome last February and rolled it out to the public in the latest version 35 of the Chrome browser. Earlier this week they released yet another new version that includes fixes for 23 security flaws.

Apart from letting you speak your searches rather than typing them, you can also ask the browser to set a timer or create a reminder — a feature that's tied to Google Now, which is used to deliver reminders on an iOS or Android device.

Another interesting feature is that by using the system you give Google the right to bug your house. That’s right kids, on a Google support notes page it states:

Related: Do we really want Google to be the Internet police?

"After you say ‘OK Google’ while on a Google search page or the new tab page, the audio recording of what you say will be sent to Google.

"Chrome will also send the audio recording of the phrase ‘OK Google’ and a few seconds before that to improve voice recognition. When you turn on 'OK Google', you can choose not to send the sound of ‘OK Google’ and the few seconds before."

Bad Google! Definitely NOT OK!

Google says you can choose not to send the sound of "Ok Google" and the few seconds before by going to the Settings, Show Advanced Settings, Privacy in Chrome’s menu. It is unclear if you can turn off the bit about them sending the audio recording of what you say after the feature is activated. It is also unclear how long that recording continues – does it stop when you initiate the search? Once you click on a link that turned up in the search? When you close that tab? When you turn off your machine? When you beat your machine to death with a baseball bat and throw it in the trash?

Related: The Race to Home Automation: Setting the Bar for Apple (and Everyone Else)

You have to wonder why would they need the few seconds before you activate the tool? And what exactly do they mean by ‘a few seconds?’ I’m also not sure why they would need recordings of millions or people saying ‘OK Google’ unless they plan to edit together fake recordings of people agreeing to random things.

“So Mr. or Mrs. blank, would you like to sign up for a lifetime exclusive subscription to everything Google ever has or will ever invent sometime in the future?”

“OK Google”

For all you paranoid types out there you might want to read the entire Google support page here. Turns out there are quite a few other things that Chrome sends back to the corporate mother ship. What the heck is Google doing with all this information anyway? Pretty soon they are going to know more about us than we know about ourselves.



Guy Wright

Guy Wright has been covering the technology space since the days when computers had cranks and networks were steam powered. He has been a writer and editor for many of the most influential publications over the years – publications that helped shape our current technological zeitgeist. He has lost count of the number of articles, blogs, reviews, rants, and books that he has published over the years, but he hasn’t stopped learning and writing about new things.


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