I received a Google Home as a Christmas present. They’re not available in Canada yet but I got a sibling that went to the US and picked me one up as a present.
To be honest I quite like the device, ask it stuff it replies, it works well even with background noise, can stream music for you like a bluetooth speaker, take appointments, set timers and alarms, read out news and incoming messages to your phone like SMS or other services depending on the connected apps.
We like to look up stuff on the Internet like names of actors, series or movies they played in and so on. Works well for that too and it’s less intrusive than picking up an iPad or smartphone, opening up IMDB then looking up whatever information we’re looking for.
I have a Chrome-cast that I hadn’t used in a while but now it’s getting used, connect Netflix and YouTube to the Google Home and it will cast whatever you want – that it can find – for you and that’s nice.
Now the bad stuff.
First of all, it’s a TERRIBLE bluetooth speaker. The tone is all wrong – very much unbalanced towards the low end of the audio frequencies, I’m not sure if the tone can be adjusted but when I have a few minutes at home I’ll look it up.
It only seems to want to stream music from Google Music which honestly isn’t my first source for background music, especially since I have an Internet sub to Sirius XM but when I ask it to stream from Sirius XM it says it can’t do that yet, which is odd since my Pixel phone can do that in the car to my bluetooth radio dongle.
And then there’s the privacy. Yesterday an article came out where US police are looking to get a subpoena in order to obtain the logs from an Amazon Echo device that potentially “witnessed” a murder by recording the sound.
The Google Home essentially is an always on microphone. Allegedly it only “records” and “stores” audio when its trigger words are spoken either OK Google or Hey Google but to do that it has to have some kind of internal buffer capable of storing audio locally before it’s shared with Google.
By looking into my phone’s “history” logs I can not only see an entry for each time I asked it anything, but also hear the works spoken. Alarmingly it also has a few “false” triggers when the device “thinks” it heard one of us say any of the trigger words and still recorded – and uploaded to Google – part of a conversation not meant for Google to hear.
Lastly what happens to the above buffer? Is it cleared after 30 seconds? Une minute? Two? A day? Ten days? How long is that recording kept on the device and how large is the buffer?
Oh sure, there is a “mute microphone” button on the side of the device for those times when you’re discussing plans to take over the world with your spouse, but how do we know it actually mutes the microphones and doesn’t only prevent triggering the uploads?
Maybe I watched too much Mr.Robot.