Well, this sort of escalated quickly.
Google has said it will permanently disable the touch-sensitive function of all Google Home Minis — including touching it to pause/play audio, we suppose — following reports this week that issues with the software and hardware were causing the devices to constantly record and send audio back to Google. The issue, which stems from the Home Mini's touch-sensitive fabric cover being overly sensitive and inadvertently activating on its own, gave people a bit of a spook when it was discovered that early Home Minis were activated and therefore recording 24 hours a day.
Going forward, all Google Home Minis will have the touch-to-activate functionality disabled — leaving the "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" hot word activation as the only option to summon the Google Assistant in the smaller speaker. The touch-sensitive sides for changing the volume of the Home Mini will remain active.
To make things incredibly clear, Google offered the following statement on the situation:
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.
While it's certainly conceivable that Google would be able to redesign the Home Mini's software to reject prolonged accidental activations, the bad optics of the situation somewhat forced its hand here. Making it completely clear that the root of the always-recording bug has been disabled entirely makes it much clearer to consumers what's happening with their new Home Mini. This also points to a likely core issue with the Home Mini's touch-sensitive fabric top that may be too expensive to re-engineer and release after likely pre-producing hundreds of thousands of units ahead of launch.
This was clearly a mistake — but the optics of the situation are horrible for Google.
Either way, we must remember that every Google Home device will still be constantly "listening" in order to pick up on your "Ok Google" and "Hey Google" commands — the difference is that the listening should, as always, be kept local until an actual request is given after the fact. For what it's worth, Google Home users can always go into the Google Home app and see every single time one of their Home devices is activated and even see what the Home heard — this is, after all, how this initial Home Mini issue was discovered in the first place.
Is Google's choice to disable the touch functionality of the Home Mini enough to convince you that it's taking your privacy seriously? We're sure you have some opinions — let us know in the comments!
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