Always listen to Google

Consumer advocates warn: Google Assistant listens more often than it should

Hans-Christian Dirscherl

Apparently, Google's clever assistant doesn't just turn on after the key phrase "Ok Google".

EnlargeConsumer advocates warn: Google Assistant listens more often than it should

The market watchmen of the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia warn: Google Assistant, the voice assistant from Google for example for Google Home, Android smartphones and iPhones, listens more and more often than it should.

Similar to Amazon's Alexa, who is also listening too often, the problem arises from the fact that the Google Assistant believes it recognizes the activation phrases “Ok, Google” or “Hey Google” much more often than they are actually pronounced. This is shown by a current technical examination by the market watchdog team at the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Google Assistant also switches on when the user says phrases such as "Ok cake" or "Ok you". Strong variations like “Ok, let's have a look!” And everyday word combinations like “Ok good” obviously trigger the voice assistant. Dr. Ayten Öksüz from the market watchdog team at the NRW consumer organization: "When using digital voice assistants, consumers should be aware that you, too, could unintentionally transfer data to the provider's server".

In this context, the consumer advocates point out that an ad server is integrated into the installation of the Google voice assistant, which is used to deliver and measure the success of Internet advertising. Amazon, on the other hand, obtains the consent of the user for the use of cookies and internet advertising when installing the app. "It is therefore conceivable that the" topic of conversation "of the users could also be used for advertising beyond the pure information service," said Dr. Ayten Öksüz.

Already at the end of 2017, the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia warned that Amazon Alexa is listening much more and more often than it should actually: Amazon Alexa / Echo also listens unintentionally. The market watchdogs of the consumer advice center NRW therefore tested Alexa again and said "Alexandra" (for "Alexa"), "Gecko" (for "Echo") and "Ham wa schon" (colloquially "Have we already" instead of "Amazon"). Alexa switched on promptly and waited to transmit the following commands to the Amazon server. Alexa again confused harmless wording with the start commands for Alexa. So Amazon obviously couldn't solve this problem.

The consumer advocates present the data protection problems of the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in detail here.

In the past, Google had remained open to rejecting user inquiries about stored data based on its own assessment. Under pressure from the market watchdog experts at the NRW consumer organization, Google has now signed a cease and desist declaration and deleted this inadmissible data protection provision, as the consumer advocates say.