Tags: google | eavesdropping | microphone | listening in

Google Eavesdropping? Your Microphone May Be Listening In

By    |   Thursday, 25 Jun 2015 07:07 AM

Google was accused of eavesdropping on customers this week with a new browser feature that turns on a computer's microphone and carries out commands that begin with the so-called hotword "OK, Google."

According to The Guardian (UK), the new feature comes with the Chrome web browser. Once the computer detects the command, it acts as a virtual assistant, similar to Apple's Siri. Unlike Siri, however, which only starts listening once a button is pressed, Google's system is always listening, and becomes fully activated when it hears the hotword.

Many software developers reported that the new feature appeared to be turned on in recent versions of the software. They also said that the computer code that powered the new feature was not viewable, and held hostage in a "black box."

"Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that — according to itself — had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room," Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate party founder, said in a blog post.

"Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions."

Google developers soon responded to the complaints, stating that, "While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording."

Many users verified this claim, but said that recent versions of Chromium — the open-source version of Google's official Chrome browser — were coming with the new eavesdropping feature already activated.

To this accusation, Google stated, "The key here is that Chromium is not a Google product. We do not directly distribute it, or make any guarantees with respect to compliance with various open source policies."

In the end, Google's claims seemed to check out, however many privacy advocates worry that always-on features like "OK, Google" are ripe for abuse by hackers. Moreover, many privacy advocates have called for a hardware-based on/off switch that controls both the microphone and video camera on a computer — a feature that would be hard for hackers to tamper with.



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Google was accused of eavesdropping on customers this week with a new browser feature that turns on a computer's microphone and carries out commands that begin with the so-called hotword "OK, Google."
google, eavesdropping, microphone, listening in
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2015-07-25
Thursday, 25 Jun 2015 07:07 AM
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