Skip to main content

Google products allegedly 'spying' on its users

It seems as Google’s software, with the ability to listen everything being said in a room, was being installed on computers without the owners’ consent, and everyone’s freaking out about it.

It was first spotted by open-source developers who noticed that Chromium (open source basis of Chrome) began remotely installing audio-snooping code that was capable of listening to users, The Guardian (opens in new tab) wrote in a report.

The code is there so that users could talk to their computer using the OK Google trigger. However, the listening was activated without their permission.

“Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room,” said Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate party founder, in a blog post (opens in new tab). “Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.”

Google responded to complaints via its developer boards (opens in new tab). It said: “While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording.”

Developers say that’s not true, with developer Ofer Zelig saying (opens in new tab): “While I was working I thought ‘I’m noticing that an LED goes on and off, on the corner of my eyesight [webcam]’. And after a few times when it just seemed weird, I sat to watch for it and saw it happening. Every few seconds or so.”

Voice controls are moving fast into the mainstream, with smartphones and dedicated devices such as Amazon Echo. But after the Snowden revelation, people are worried the technology might easily be abused.

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.