A voice-controlled Chrome extension from Google could record and store every mutter, mumble and moan in front of the keyboard.
The ‘always-listening’ extension is an optional and experimental tool that lets Chrome users search for things online by saying ‘OK Google’ and then speaking, much like you do with Google Now on Android phones. It’s a pretty useful tool.
The issue however lies in how the software works. When installing the add-on, you’ll have to enable the extension. To do so you are presented with a small window stating that “Chrome will listen for you to say ‘Ok Google’ and then send the sound of the next thing you say, plus the few seconds before, to Google”.
It’s that ‘few seconds before’ that’s getting people worried. Sean Sullivan, security adviser for F-Secure, points out that there’s no way of telling how long ‘a few seconds’ really is.
Equally, while we’re told that you can choose not to send audio recordings to Google in the support page, we’re not told exactly how to do this. The information sent could potentially include all manner of private data and Google does not state where said data is sent or used, if it is included supplementary to your search request.
News of Google’s potentially invasive extension follows news that Samsung’s Smart TV voice controls could be picking up sofa-side banter between episodes of House of Cards.
Voice search is a developing technology and so tech giants like Google and Samsung are keen to source more (free) data from the crowd to improve their services.
Of course, one the world’s biggest suppliers of ad-space could just be using voice recordings to refine its technology, but with no way of knowing how can you be sure? We’ve contacted Google for an explanation and are waiting to hear back.
Update: We now understand that a future update from Google will disable logging by default, and only store user’s utterances if they’ve specifically opted in to audio history.