First Click: Do you trust Google to always be listening inside your Home?

May 20th, 2016

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I want privacy. Deep down I know it’s important, so much so that on my home continent of Europe it’s a fundamental right. I’m just not very good at safeguarding it.

A year ago, right after Google I/O 2015, I was struggling with the idea of migrating to the just-announced Google Photos in exchange for “free” unlimited storage. I use scare quotes because I’m fully aware that I’m the product in this transaction. Nevertheless, I tested it for a few months, slowly adding more and more photos until I eventually pulled the trigger and committed to the service — as have 200 million other people.

Now, thanks to Google I/O 2016, I’m faced with a new conundrum: Google Home.

Do I really trust Google enough to place its data-gathering appliance in my living room, where it’ll always be on and always be listening?

I still have my reservations with Google Photos, but the service is so damn good compared to everything else in its class that I’m willing to risk exposure in exchange for the value I receive. After all, the risk is theoretical, but the benefit of using the service is real. It’s just that now I’m at Google’s mercy to secure my photos from hacks, and to not use them, or the data it gleans, in nefarious ways. I'm sure I'll rationalize the purchase of an AI-driven personal assistant in the same way.

You may argue that Android and iOS phones are already listening, patiently waiting for an "Okay, Google" or "Hey, Siri" to kick into action. But phones are personal and not equipped with powerful microphone arrays and far-field voice recognition technology. While my phone can pick up my voice when it’s nearby and not inside my pocket or bag, Google Home, or Amazon’s Echo for that matter, can pick up conversations from anywhere in the room, even with my wife and kids. And once hooked, the companies want us to place their mics in every room of the house. It all sounds so ominous.

Right now it’s only Amazon and Google who've built such sophisticated personal assistants for the home. But Microsoft’s Kinect is also listening, as are Samsung TVs. And how long before Apple and Microsoft offer their own personal assistants for Siri and Cortana? Hell, even Sonos is looking to get in on the action.

Personally, I think I'll wait to see what Apple and Sonos do since I'm already living inside that ecosystem. But what about you? When the day comes that you willingly place internet-attached microphones into every room of the house? Which company will you trust with the responsibility?

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