Are Google and Amazon eavesdropping? Yes. Yes, they are.


The Google Home device (above) is providing stiff competition to Amazon’s Echo Dot.

Do you ever get the feeling someone is listening to you? Do you ever say something that you don’t want anyone to hear? 

Well, if you have a Google Home device or any smart speaker device such as Amazon’s Echo Dot – better known as Alexa – chances are not only is someone listening, but it is also being recorded.

To activate Google on your smartphone or the Google Home device , you must say the command “Hey, Google.” Once that is said, the assistant feature will record your interactions and potentially be reviewed by the contractors that Google says are used to improve its product.

But in order for Google to recognize the command “Hey, Google,” wouldn’t it have to be listening at all times?  “According to Google’s Data Security and Privacy on Google Home, the device listens for a few seconds at a time, in what it calls snippets, for the hotword – but these Snippets are deleted if it doesn’t pick up the hotword,” explains Somrata Sarkar, senior staff writer for Tech Advisor magazine. “These ambient recordings only upload to Google’s cloud servers when the wake word is said.” 

The audio recording is processed in the Google cloud and then returned to the device to deliver information that is asked for by the user. These snippets overall improve the Google Homes capabilities and improvements on speech and audio recognition both on and off Google. The data also helps “Google give you [the user] more personalised experiences across Google services,” as Google states in its Voice and Activity permissions

There have been many instances with specific ads popping up from Google listening to conversations or “snippets.” Brooke Hollander, an Olympic Heights sophomore recounts, “I was talking to my mom about this makeup I wanted from Sephora with my Google Home in the room, and when I went on my phone a while later, the exact makeup I was talking about came up as an add.” 

So, the real question is, is Google spying on you? Well, sort of. But as Google and Sarkar explain, the purpose is to provide better services to fit the users needs, and of course to make money from the ads you later see popping up on your various social media platforms.

What should concern users of Google Home and Amazon’s Echo Dot is what could or might happen with the “snippets” of conversation the devices pick up and store beyond their stated use. For all their convenience, it is up to the consumer to determine if the devices are worth the risk of having personal information being made available to whoever is willing to pay for it, or possibly subpoena it.