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Google to disable touch-activated listening on Home Mini following reports of constant recording

Google has said it will permanently disable the touch-sensitive function of all Google Home Minis — including touching it to pause/play audio, we suppose — following reports this week that issues with the software and hardware were causing the devices to constantly record and send audio back to Google. The issue, which stems from the Home Mini's touch-sensitive fabric cover being overly sensitive and inadvertently activating on its own, gave people a bit of a spook when it was discovered that early Home Minis were activated and therefore recording 24 hours a day.

Going forward, all Google Home Minis will have the touch-to-activate functionality disabled — leaving the "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" hot word activation as the only option to summon the Google Assistant in the smaller speaker. The touch-sensitive sides for changing the volume of the Home Mini will remain active.

To make things incredibly clear, Google offered the following statement on the situation:

We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.We have made the decision to permanently remove all top touch functionality on the Google Home Mini. As before, the best way to control and activate Google Home Mini is through voice, by saying "Ok Google" or "Hey Google," which is already how most people engage with our Google Home products. You can still adjust the volume by using the touch control on the side of the device.

While it's certainly conceivable that Google would be able to redesign the Home Mini's software to reject prolonged accidental activations, the bad optics of the situation somewhat forced its hand here. Making it completely clear that the root of the always-recording bug has been disabled entirely makes it much clearer to consumers what's happening with their new Home Mini. This also points to a likely core issue with the Home Mini's touch-sensitive fabric top that may be too expensive to re-engineer and release after likely pre-producing hundreds of thousands of units ahead of launch.

This was clearly a mistake — but the optics of the situation are horrible for Google.

Either way, we must remember that every Google Home device will still be constantly "listening" in order to pick up on your "Ok Google" and "Hey Google" commands — the difference is that the listening should, as always, be kept local until an actual request is given after the fact. For what it's worth, Google Home users can always go into the Google Home app and see every single time one of their Home devices is activated and even see what the Home heard — this is, after all, how this initial Home Mini issue was discovered in the first place.

Is Google's choice to disable the touch functionality of the Home Mini enough to convince you that it's taking your privacy seriously? We're sure you have some opinions — let us know in the comments!

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I was going to purchase one, but I may wait to see if they release a v,2 that fixes the issue properly after the initial run sells. Not a privacy concern, just don't think I want a gimped device. I know it still will react to voice commands, but sometimes physical control is preferred, IMO.
  • If they are going to permanently stop the feature they won't put it in the next one. Still able to adjust the volume on the side. Idk what the big deal is.
  • I seriously doubt that. It's a feature of the Google Home. They'll fix it next time I bet.
  • You mean it's a regular feature of the original Google Home? I have one and as far as I know, there's no way to activate the device by touch. You have to say "OK Google". So the mini now behaves like the regular. Touch only stops or pauses the Home.
  • That's not true; you can activate Home by long-pressing the top, the same way the Home Mini was supposed to work.
  • original has the touch to pause/play, as well as the long press to initiate. The mini has neither now.
  • i get what the big deal is. sure, if you never planned to touch the thing, then you wouldn't care. but there are times it's very quick and useful to tap to control play/pause/etc on these devices. but moreover, that's part of what you're paying for is to have that ability! it was an advertised feature, and now you're no longer getting it...ever.
    so - why touch?...picture your partner is asleep in the same room, you wake up early, and want some light music on while you're getting ready. you'll want to touch to turn down the volume, then tap to play... versus yelling "ok google" then "turn the volume down" then "play", and waking your partner up in the process. by tapping, you achieve the same result, but silently.
    or sometimes if you're blasting music - these things don't hear you even though they're always supposed to - no matter how loud you shout the wake you can go over and tap the device to pause and/or have it listen to you. with that disabled, your only other option is to pull out your phone probably...which, most people get these so they dont' have to always look at their smartphone for everything.
  • Considering that they're putting their foot down on this and disabling it altogether, I wouldn't expect Google to just release a "V2" Home Mini that has the feature again. Perhaps in an altogether refreshed model with a different design.
  • Right, like an updated one right? I'll wait a year for that. Not paying 50 bucks for this one that's now permanently gimped. I'll use the free one that's coming with my Pixel though.
  • Yah, kind of like the tap to pause but I really need one of these in my garage/basement. Might not be enough to keep me from picking one up. I just deleted all my activity from my existing GH units. I wonder, does this also remove it from Google's servers or just my account? Seems like that is sort of one and the same but I hate to assume.
  • Fail.
  • Not a good look.
  • If they want to avoid a whole bunch of support calls and returns, they're going to want to update all their documentation (especially pack in manuals), packaging and advertising removing any references to it. Seems to be a much larger exercise than say, changing to a 2 finger double tap?
  • its not going to have multi-touch. So 2 fingers would just be one finger. I think they should have just stuck with the existing fix, which was only disabling the long press.
  • Doesn't matter, Google is still listening!
  • Still a better buy than the echo dot because of Google Assistant.
  • I don't know. No touch, no 3.5mm jack, and can't be used as source for Bluetooth. I would rather have a dot for the money. I would probably just get the regular home. Can often find it on sale for 99 bucks. However, I don't often ask it questions so the only thing assistant does better for me is control my nest. More functionality with nest than Alexa offers.
  • What about tap to pause like in the regular Google Home? Will that still be available? As far as I know, the regular Google Home did not have the touch to activate functionality anyway. I have to say "OK Google" to activate Assistant.
  • Sounds like a feature rather than a bug.. How else will Google be able to gather your data and help you receive more relevant ads. /s Seriously though, I wouldn't be surprised if EFF pounced on this. Constantly recording is beyond egregious from a privacy perspective.
  • Got what you deserved.
  • I just assumed that all of these kinds of devices were always listening, recording, and sending data back to Google/Amazon/Samsung/Apple/Doubleclick.
  • Do you assume that of your phone too? If not, why not?
  • I would if I had any of the various voice assistant services activated.
  • Issues like this are one of the reasons my Echo Dot and Google Home are turned off when not in use. Yes, it limits their usefulness (although I use the dot mostly for Audible), but I feel safer knowing accidentally recording a client conversation is unlikely. I'm also unlikely to fall victim to a South Park style prank resulting in wierd and wonderful things being purchased or looked up (I do have the pin on for purchases and wake word isn't "Alexa" for additional safety). The dot is on a timer (old fashioned one that can't be hacked) for a few hours a night (Alexa really doesn't need to prove I snore!) and the Home is turned on in the lounge as required. I'm tempted to get a Mini (Pixel 2 preorder) but would now probably pass if it wasn't "free".
  • Not that I'm faulting you for the extra security precautions, but if it takes all that, why even have one?
  • I didn't used to (although I always set a purchasing pin and prefer "computer" as a wake word, despite it being more likely to be overhead in a TV show/movie). Initially I switched them off because got fed up of having them on over night and wasting electricity. Each item may only cost a few pence a day to run but it adds up with everything electronic I run. I initially left them on mute when I wasn't actively using them, but then started working from home and realised if I'm not using it and something goes wrong (See the guy who used handed the recordings over to police in a murder investigation from March this year) a confidential conversation could be recorded. Maybe not the end of the world with some clients, but I also work with local government and they're paranoid about confidentiality (just in case anyone actually cares about whatever internal project I work on) so I switched it off them now as well.