Google is permanently axing all “top touch” functionality from its new Home Mini device after a nasty bug was documented yesterday that essentially recorded everything around the gadget and sent it to Google. These things happen! Either the company couldn’t be sure it could fix it or it couldn’t be sure people would trust that it did — so they made the choice to nuke it from orbit.
The bug, first reported by Android Police, was apparently a hardware issue that caused the touch sensor on the top of the device to register touches pretty much constantly. Touching the device is — well, was — an alternative to saying “OK Google,” waking the device up to listen to your commands. All of your voice interactions, of course, are sent to Google and kept in your account history. You can turn that handy “feature” off here, by the way.
So basically, the device was constantly sending clips of ambient noise and conversation along, eventually producing a nice searchable database of thousands of clips, organized by time (and potentially content, if it were to transcribe them).
At the time, Google responded promptly to the bug report and its investigation found “an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Minis that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly.”
That sounds like a hardware issue, and with those, unless you can identify a run of affected devices (say, serial no.s 12184 through 12433), you can’t do an effective recall. If you can’t do an effective recall, maybe you can solve it with an update. But if that’s not possible… issue a statement.
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.
The official bug page says that those affected are “People who received an early release Google Home Mini device at recent Made by Google events. Pre-ordered Google Home Mini purchases aren’t affected.”
It’s unclear whether that’s because the later Home Mini devices don’t have the touch sensor flaw, or if it’s just clever wording — since pre-orders haven’t shipped, those people can’t have been affected, right? The bug will never have a chance to affect them. (I’ve asked Google for clarification.)
All top touch related events from the brief period the bug was in the wild (October 4-7) have also been cleared from your activity page, so even if you were unknowingly affected, those clips are all gone now. You’ll never know!
Kudos to Google for the quick response and willingness to hobble their device in order to
avoid a PR calamity give its users complete peace of mind.