Google has made the decision to permanently disable one of the features on its new, yet-to-be-released Google Home Mini smart speaker, after a product reviewer noticed an issue with the device.
Google Home Mini was billed to have top touch functionality — it was supposed to let users press the top of the speaker in order to activate its Google Assistant feature, which listens for voice commands. However, Artem Russakovskii of Android Police found that his test unit was “waking” thousands of times a day to record audio and send those recordings to Google.
The Decision To Disable
Google claimed it was seeing a few of the Home Mini devices register “phantom” touch events, which was causing the unit to record audio almost constantly. The company temporarily updated its software to disable the long press feature, but on Wednesday, Google decided to go ahead and nix the feature for good.
Google released a statement:
“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.
“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. You can still adjust the volume by using the touch control on the side of the device.”
As noted, users can still use the “OK Google” voice command to activate control of Google Assistant. Touch controls on the upcoming smart speaker will still be available for volume and mic control, as well.
While it appears that a bug truly shelved this feature — rather than the discovery of a sneaky attempt to spy on users — this incident may not go over so well with customers who may be deciding between Google’s and Amazon’s products for a smart speaker to put in their home.
Some prospective customers are still understandably wary about their sending home audio recordings to a company’s servers. Though these smart speakers can offer greater convenience in the home — we’ve detailed Alexa smart home skills and home security features — we also don’t blame users who aren’t yet willing to accept the tradeoff.