It turns out that your private and intimate moments aren’t that private after all — if you use Google Assistant, that is.
According to Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS, devices with the Google digital assistant are recording conversations and sounds inside the homes of their owners and sending those messages to humans for review. Google Home is just one of several devices equipped with Google Assistant, which can also be found on Android phones.
Perhaps most troubling, at least some of those recordings do not appear to have been trigged with an activation phrase like “Hey, Google.” Oh yeah, and over 1,000 recordings were just leaked.
Much like with Amazon’s Alexa, Google pays people to listen to some Google Assistant recordings and transcribe them into text. This means that, in some cases, a real person is listening to what you ask your smart device or smartphone — as well as some things you never meant for it to hear.
“VRT NWS listened to more than a thousand excerpts, 153 of which were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘Okay Google’ was clearly not given,” explains the broadcaster.
And just what, exactly, are the contractors hearing? VRT NWS, which got access to the leaked recordings, describes “bedroom conversations, conversations between parents and their children, but also blazing rows and professional phone calls containing lots of private information.”
In other words, things you would typically discuss in the presumed privacy of your own home.
Google confirmed the leak in an early morning blog post, and laid the blame on a single Dutch language reviewer.
“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action,” wrote Google’s David Monsees. “We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”
Notably, Google assures its customers that the audio recordings sent to humans for transcription are “not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.” However, VRT NWS was able to identify specific individuals based on the content of the recordings.
As to the fact that devices with Google Assistant seem to be randomly recording people who haven’t said “Hey, Google” or any other variation of the activation phrase? Well, the company copped to that troubling reality while attempting to downplay its seriousness.
“Rarely, devices that have the Google Assistant built in may experience what we call a ‘false accept,'” Monsees added. “This means that there was some noise or words in the background that our software interpreted to be the hotword (like ‘Ok Google’). We have a number of protections in place to prevent false accepts from occurring in your home.”
And yet, it still does happen.
Fundamentally, your smart assistant isn’t actually all that smart and still requires some very human input. If you’re not comfortable with the possibility of a stranger listening to an unintentional recording of your most intimate moments, consider saying “goodbye, Google” and either permanently unplugging your Google Home or disabling Google Assistant on your smartphone.
When you get home from a long day at work, the only thing you want to do is flop on the couch — even digging for the TV remote or choosing a streaming app is too much of a task.
Make being lazy even easier and grab a Google Home Mini and Chromecast Smart TV Kit, regularly $74 but on sale for $60 at Walmart. (There’s even free next-day delivery, because apparently Walmart does that now.)
With Chromecast, you can mirror whatever’s playing on your phone or tablet to the TV. WiFi not working on your smart TV? Cast it through your phone. Only have someone’s Netflix password on your phone? Cast that shit. Paired with the Google Home Mini, you can ask Google Assistant to pause the show, skip to the next episode, or say “Hey Google, play Stranger Things.”
Responsive Google Assistant • USB port for charging separate device • Visible display with good viewing angles
Limited use of display • Weak sound quality • Doesn’t work as digital photo frame
For just a few more dollars, Lenovo’s Smart Clock improves on the Google Home Mini with an always-on display for showing the time.
⚡ Mashable Score 3.25
Smart displays are the new smart speakers. It seems like just about every company, from Amazon to Google to Facebook, is releasing their own.
Most smart displays, like Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub (formerly called Home Hub), use their screens to show lots of extra information, including photos, maps, and videos. But Lenovo’s $80 Smart Clock is far less ambitious.
The Smart Clock is essentially a Google Home Mini with a 4-inch screen for displaying the time. There’s no camera for video calling, the screen can’t play YouTube videos, and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
At a time in which it feels like gadgets are doing too many things and becoming too invasive with the data they collect, the Smart Clock is a refreshing lesson in restraint. Lenovo intentionally limited the abilities of the Smart Clock, and I kind of appreciate that for a connected device that’s going to live on my bedside table.
At $80, the Smart Clock is reasonably priced, just $30 more than a Google Home Mini. That extra money basically gets you a small touchscreen. The Smart Clock is also cheaper than the $130 Echo Spot, which has a smaller, 2.5-inch round touchscreen.
Compare it to Google’s Nest Hub and Amazon’s new Echo Show 5, and the Smart Clock is less of a value. Though the Nest Hub retails for $130, it’s frequently sold for $100 from Google, and we’ve seen it for less at big-box retailers. Similarly, the $90 Echo Show 5 only costs $10 more than the Smart Clock and comes with a larger, 5.5-inch touchscreen and more smart display features.
Smart displays and “cute” almost never go hand in hand, but the Smart Clock is an adorable little bedside or desk gadget.
The wedge-shaped device resembles an Echo Show (second-gen), but it’s way tinier — barely larger than a Google Home Mini and roughly the size of a bedside alarm clock you can find at IKEA or Target.
Since it’s a device designed for the bedroom, Lenovo wisely covered the outside with a fabric material to help it blend better at home. Two rubber strips underneath the Smart Clock help keep it firmly planted on a surface. Other than a stitched tag with Lenovo’s logo, the Smart Clock is a clean-looking device.
The minimalism extends beyond its looks. On top, there are only two buttons: plus and minus to adjust volume. Around back, there’s a plug for power, a microphone mute switch, and a full-size (USB-A) port that can be used to charge up another device like a phone or smartwatch.
Setting up the Smart Clock is a breeze. You download the Google Home app (if you don’t already have it), follow the on-screen prompts to pair the Smart Clock to your phone and connect to the internet, and you’re done.
Same Google Home Mini smarts
Everything you can do with the Google Assistant on the Home Mini works exactly the same on the Smart Clock.
I had no issues saying “Hey Google” to bring up the Assistant to tell me the weather, play music, turn on my smart lights, and so forth.
From what I could tell, the Google Assistant was as responsive on the Smart Clock as it was on my Home Mini; the two microphones located on the front of the device picked up my voice easily, even when I was 15 feet away.
The microphones are even sensitive enough to detect whispers. As somebody who’s grown used to awkwardly yelling at my Echo in the morning to silence the alarm and get it to tell me the weather, it was nice being able to speak softly to the Smart Clock.
But is it a good alarm clock?
Great, so the Smart Clock is comparable to the Google Home Mini. That’s not a high bar to clear. But is it a good enough alarm clock to justify spending another $30 over the Mini? I think so.
The 4-inch resolution display sounds small on paper, but there are more than enough pixels (800 x 480) to show the time without you having to squint to see it. There are 10 different clock faces to choose from; they’re all fine and visible on the screen, but the clock face that also includes the weather will probably be everyone’s favorite.
Alarms are easy to create. You can ask the Assistant to set one for you, or swipe left from the clock face to get to the alarm screen.
After creating an alarm, the Smart Clock also gives two options you can switch on. The first is called “Sunrise alarm,” which gradually brightens the screen 30 minutes before your alarm goes off. The second is “Good morning routine,” which activates the Assistant after the alarm goes off to read you the weather, your schedule, commute information, and news. Both are pretty handy — I recommend turning them on.
Turning off alarms can be controlled via voice or tap. You can tell the Assistant “stop” (no “Hey Google” phrase required) or touch the top of the Smart Clock, just like you would a physical button on a regular alarm clock.
Now, here’s where some people might find the Smart Clock disappointing: While I’m okay with the six alarm clock tunes included, some of my friends and colleagues expressed frustration at not being able to wake up to music from services like Spotify.
Another letdown for some people might be the limited display features. Besides the weather, alarms, and your schedule, there’s not much else you can use the Smart Clock’s display for. With the exception of being able to view live video from a connected Nest Cam, the screen can’t be used for watching, say, YouTube videos, or showing photos, or maps, or recipes, or pretty much anything a Google Nest Hub can.
One thing you should not expect from the Smart Clock is sound that’ll knock your socks off. Like a Google Home Mini, the Smart Clock’s got a built-in speaker and it can play music, no problem. It’s just not a great speaker. The 1.5-inch, 3-watt speaker can get loud and fill a small room, but your ears will be begging you to turn the volume down if you do so.
At any volume above 50 percent, music sounds tinny and distorted. The puny speaker’s also incapable of producing any bass.
Don’t get me wrong: The Smart Clock’s fine for light background music. Just don’t expect it to produce sound that’ll move you at all.
Do you need to see the time?
I kept returning to the same burning question during my time testing the Lenovo Smart Clock: Is the clock really necessary?
I haven’t had an alarm clock on my bedside table in over a decade. I just use my phone. And since buying an Echo some four years ago, I’ve just asked Alexa to tell me the time and set alarms for me.
I’ll admit that’s it’s convenient to have the time and weather visible without having to use voice controls, but does anybody really need what’s essentially a Google Home Mini mashed together with a small touchscreen? Just like nobody needs Alexa in a microwave, I’m gonna say a small screen that’s mainly for displaying the time isn’t essential.
That said, I can see the appeal. Sometimes simpler is better.
June 14, 2019 / Comments Off on Lenovo Smart Clock review: Better than a Google Home Mini, but just barely
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Waze users will now have another way to issue voice commands on the navigation app: the Google Assistant.
For now, it’s only rolling out to Android phones in the U.S. But it will let Waze app users ask the navigation app to do things by uttering the prompt phrase: “Hey Google.” For instance, say, “Hey Google, report traffic,” or “Hey Google, avoid tolls,” and the Waze app will respond.
“Many of your favorite Waze features, like reporting traffic, pinpointing a pothole or checking for alternate routes, can also be accessed simply by using your voice,” Google said in a Monday blog post.
Waze, which Google acquired in 2013, already has voice commands. But to access them, you must turn on the feature and use the prompt “Ok Waze.”
Google Assistant, on the other hand, has been designed as a voice assistant to control all kinds of features across a smartphone. This includes the ability to play music, make phone calls, send text messages, and pull up driving directions on the competing Google Maps app. So today’s change should make it easier to use Waze alongside other Google services with only your voice.
“Your Google Assistant will help keep you connected, informed and minimize distractions while you’re on the go, so you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road,” the company said.
The Google Assistant support is first coming to Android phones in English. No word on iOS availability. For more tips on how to get the most out of Waze, consult our guide.
Google just added yet another reason to never have to leave its services.
The company is now adding food delivery to the lineup of things you can do directly in Maps and Search without switching to a separate app. Now, when you search for restaurants in either Maps or Search, you can place an order with a new “Order Online” button.
In some ways, it’s similar to the way Google added rideshare services to Google Maps. Like those integrations, you can get a look at multiple delivery services available for each restaurant, along with info about relevant delivery fees. The feature will include DoorDash, Postmates, Delivery.com, Slice, and ChowNow to start, with more services being added in the future.
But while you still need to switch apps directly to hail a ride, you can actually complete your full order without leaving Maps or Search. (Payment will be handled in the app via Google Pay.)
The company is also adding food delivery to its Assistant app, so you can place orders with your voice, or re-order a previous meal. Google says the Assistant functionality is limited to its mobile app for now. Butt it seems like a feature it could eventually bring to its smart speakers, especially now that Google is opening up more functionality of its smart displays to third-parties.
May 23, 2019 / Comments Off on Google adds food delivery to Maps and search results