TECH

How Much Will Google Home Be Watching You?

"Always-on" technology is a big privacy concern, and it's only going to grow.
A Google Home unit in its natural state.
A Google Home unit in its natural state.

Google is fighting harder than ever to get into your household.

On Wednesday the company announced its entry into the voice-activated virtual assistant race with Google Home, its answer to the Amazon Echo. Google Home promises to live alongside you wherever you reside, answering your questions, playing your music and reading your news, much like its popular rival.

It'll also have Google search built in, which means it'll know a lot about you as soon as you sign in.

“We want users to have an ongoing two-way dialogue with Google,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the company's I/O developer conference on Wednesday.

To be sure, the company already knows where you are, where you live and what you had for dinner this week (assuming you find your recipes through the search engine). And certain features like the location history tool on Google Maps are either super-useful or enough to make you throw on a tinfoil hat, depending on your mood.

According to its makers, Google Home is a sleek little device that will learn your music tastes, your commute and your daily plans -- "with your permission, of course," a spokesman said -- and will use that information to tailor itself to your needs.

Google has already cornered the market on collecting your data, though it does offer privacy controls that allow you to opt out of providing certain personal information.

But as concerns grow regarding "always-on" technology and its potential privacy risks, Google will need to assure consumers that it's not collecting too much information at any given time. Predators can already hack our baby monitors and computer cameras, and as Gizmodo reported this week, the FBI "can neither confirm nor deny" that it has wiretapped Amazon Echo devices.

Amazon has pushed back by noting that its virtual assistant, Alexa -- the "voice" inside the Echo -- only "listens" when a user says its wake word, sending the subsequent commands to Amazon servers. You can also turn off the Echo's microphone, though it's unclear whether even that could stop the National Security Agency from listening in.

In any case, these devices aren't going anywhere. Amazon Echo has sold more than 3 million units, and the company's released an API kit that allows independent developers to add even more functionality.

In terms of sales, Google has plenty of catching up to do. That said, it wasn't ever trying to win the device game -- it's an advertising company. Its ad revenue rose by 18 percent year-over-year between 2014 and 2015, topping out at $21.2 billion, and it's aggressively working to make you click on more ads.

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