A new feature on Google Chrome may be eavesdropping on your personal conversations.
The web browser’s new “OK, Google” word detection software has privacy advocates worried that the technology giant may be overstepping its boundaries by having access to the audio in your own home.
The hotword detection was reportedly automatically installed without the consent of some users, giving Google an ears-worth of potential information.
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“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,” said Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate party founder, according to The Guardian. “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 responded to complaints of the alleged automated installation stating, “While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording.”
Some developers report, however, that is not the case.
“The default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement,” writes Falkvinge. He says a hardware switch to disable the microphone and camera built into most computers is needed.
A Google spokeswoman said: “We’re sure you’ll be relieved to learn we’re not listening to your conversations – nor do we want to. We’re simply giving Chrome users the ability to search hands free at their computers by saying “OK Google” while on the Google homepage – and only if they choose to opt in to the feature.”