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How Google Home's 'always on' will affect privacy

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 7, 2016
Will this smart home device amass even more personal info about you?

She did not say what would be done with the data collected from things like music preferences and search questions.

"Google claims that the information is only captured when you are making a request, but with all of the security problems we've had with technology in this class, baby monitors in particular, you sure wouldn't want anything like this someplace where security was a big concern, like in a conference room or lab, for instance," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with The Enderle Group. "In most cases, the exposure is likely more on whether it can tell and report on whether you are home or not, but with the alleged Yahoo email scanning scandal, the level of concern is, and likely should remain, high."

Of course, Google has noted that users can press a Mute button on the Home device so it isn't always listening, but that diminishes the usefulness of the device.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said users should always be on guard.

"To be on the safe side, consumers should assume Home is always listening," he said. "Google also didn't specify whether or not information mined through Home would be used to build advertising profiles. Consumers who want a high degree of privacy should be worried and do the due diligence to read privacy agreements."

For Olds, Home simply has a high creepy factor.

"I think that people will be creeped out by these systems as they become more sophisticated," he said. "Imagine that you were having a casual conversation with friends about adding a hot tub to your back yard. The next day, as you go about your digital business, you might find your email inbox full of ads for hot tubs, and all of the banners on your internet searches festooned with even more ads for hot tub dealers. Is the convenience offered by these products worth the highly targeted advertising that will be the end result? We'll see."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said he's sure that Google Home will collect more information about users than the company had before.

He's just not all that worried about it.

"The reason I live with Google's having so much of my information is that it makes the services more useful to me, and I'm sure enough that it won't be revealed to anyone or used for anything other than advertising and responsiveness," he said. "I'm not totally sure, but it's a gamble I'm willing to take."

Enderle noted that society is reaching a time when everything people do likely will be captured by someone. "I don't think we are ready for that eventuality yet," he said. He also had a piece of advice for anyone worried about Google Home collecting too much data about them. "Don't buy it."


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