I just asked Google Home what I should do today. It quickly shot back that I should go to the botanical gardens and added that “I wish I could smell flowers.”
Sounds innocent enough, right? Alarmed, my wife motioned me over and whispered “do you think it heard our conversations about going to the botanical garden?” Ann and I had on several occasions discussed in the presence of Google Home going to Coastal Maine Botanical Garden for its spectacular Christmas light show.
I don’t recall that I ever specifically asked it a question about botanical gardens. Supposedly, it only hears questions when they are prefaced by “Ok, Google.” Had it been listening in on us surreptitiously?
Coincidence? I doubt it. I am not a huge believer in those.
[update Dec. 2 – Forward Thinking columnist Michael Miller might have the answer to how Google knew I was interested in botanical gardens besides Google Home eavesdropping on me. He asked if I searched “botanical gardens” on Google via my computer. Had I been logged into Google which I always am, it would have logged the search in Google.com/myactivity. I thought maybe I had, but could not locate such a search in my Google search history.]
I bought Google Home on the first day it came out because early reviews said the voice recognition is very good. I asked it recently to play the most offensive Christmas songs and, indeed, it came back with Spotify’s list of offensive Christmas songs.
As a Spotify customer, it’s one of the more useful Google Home apps for me. The device is a very good spell checker, too, but beyond that, it remains something of a novelty.
Controlling TVs, sound systems and lights isn’t in the cards yet because it requires pricey gear to make that happen. For instance, Google will shut off lights only if I buy something like a Philips bridge device and some special light bulbs. For now, my basic electrical switches work just fine and give my fingers some exercise.
The Google Home privacy web page offers much to think about. Nothing is simple anymore. And if you wonder how much verbiage Google Home keeps, wonder no more. All of it that’s prefaced with “Ok, Google.” You can look up everything you asked and read or replay it in your Google activity page.
The mike can be switched off, but that’s impractical if you want to use the thing. And would it really be shut off?
Some of the data collection probably can be controlled or deleted in your Google Home settings. I just haven’t paid enough attention yet. By the way, if you use Amazon Echo, the same concerns apply.
Bottom line, Google Home’s ability to recognize speech is impressive, perhaps too much so.