back to article Google isn't even trying to not be creepy: 'Continuous Match Mode' in Assistant will listen to everything until it's disabled

Google has introduced "continuous match mode" for apps on its voice-powered Assistant platform, where it will listen to everything without pausing. At the same time it has debuted related developer tools, new features, and the ability to display web content on its Smart Display hardware using the AMP component framework. The …

  1. bazza Silver badge

    It’s alright, they’ll have scrapped it inside 2 years anyway..:

    1. bazza Silver badge
      Trollface

      Also, isn’t there a GDPR issue to something like this being scrapped? As I understand it data can be collected, processed and stored only for a specific purpose. If something like this is scrapped after a short time, there wasn’t really a purpose for that data to be collected in the first place, was there?

      At the very least, Google’s T&Cs are going to have to start saying “we’re experimenting” as the primary purpose for snaffling data, not “we’re providing a service”...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's Google though... so GDPR is done on a kinda flexi basis - more of a collect now, worry later - and the worry is in the most minimal way

        1. Drew Scriver Silver badge

          They've been here before...

          Remember the WiFi SSID slurp they did back in the day? It was essentially war-driving mounted on the the Google Streetview cars.

          By the time they got caught and finally had to destroy the data they had been able to build their own second-generation SSID database and no longer had a need for the original dataset.

          It's not unlikely that they'll use the collected data from Continuous Match Mode (say, as an AI/ML set) and then purge the data once its served its purpose.

      2. Woodnag

        GDPR

        So if I go to somebody's house and Continuous Match Mode is enabled, who has to get my consent? Bearing in mind the voice surveillance isn't necessary for my visit, so by GDPR law I have to be proactively offered an opt-in or -out...

        1. tekHedd

          Re: GDPR

          "So if I go to somebody's house and Continuous Match Mode is enabled, who has to get my consent?"

          Simple: google will simply track where you are and who is near you and your relationship with those people and their preferences, and from that detect which people within voice range have and have not given consent, identifying them by their voices. It will automatically discard data from anyone who has explicitly rejected CMM, keeping data from all other users stored in perpetuity on the assumption that they will later accept the CMM terms and conditions. Incidentally, this will allow your always-on display to show appropriate advertising not just to you, but to the people around you, improving your life in every possible way.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @tekHedd - Re: GDPR

            Discard ? Data ? Google ? Kidding ?

          2. Psmo Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: GDPR

            Sarcasm and ironic counterpoint will save us all.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: GDPR

          so by GDPR law I have to be proactively offered an opt-in or -out

          FTFY

        3. Robert Grant Silver badge

          Re: GDPR

          I think according to GDPR you have to be offered an opt-in. But I could be wrong.

          1. Drew Scriver Silver badge

            Re: GDPR

            People who think everything they don't pay for in hard currency is free will opt in for anything they fancy.

            That'd be virtually everyone.

        4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: GDPR

          If it isn't your house then it isn't personally identifiable as you. At least, not unless Google are way ahead on the AI and can understand your host welcoming you by name. When setting up the Assistant, you let it voice print you (presumably to redice the risk of visitors issuing random instructions as in the XKCD cartoon on this topic) so anyone else is just background noise.

          So I don't think GDPR applies.

        5. Paul 87

          Re: GDPR

          No they wouldn't because they are not a company and thus not bound by GDPR

          Someone's office however, then there may well be issues with data having been captured and processes by a third partty without notification.

          Consent doesn't really come into it thoigh, because the legal basis will likely be legitimate interest, Google are gathering data to supply a contracted service. If GDPR was interepted to apply on an individual by indvidual basis then it'd be legally impossible to have any kind of voice activated device functioning

        6. big_D Silver badge

          Re: GDPR

          Google needs the written consent of all those that are being listened to, so it is their duty to get that consent, before they enable Continuous Match Mode in the presence of other people - or warn them and let them leave.

          Also, at least in Germany, the laws regarding recording of conversations is very restrictive. You can only record someone if you tell them in advance that you will be recording, if they refuse, you cannot record. You may also only use the recording for a single specific purpose. If you say it is for training purposes only, you can't then use the recording to prove breach of contract, for example. Likewise, if Google say they are using it for the purposes of Google Assistant, they can't use it for marketing, advertising AI research etc.

      3. DS999

        GDPR issue??

        How is this any different from going to someone's house and they have cameras watching and recording your every move, microphones recording anything you say, etc.

        It is THEIR house, why should the equipment within that house be required to get your consent? Now if this was in a public space like a shopping center then I'd agree.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @DS999 - Re: GDPR issue??

          It is different. If that someone keeps that recorded information for himself it's one thing but if they use it to make money out of it that's a different kettle of fish.

        2. whitepines Silver badge

          Re: GDPR issue??

          microphones recording anything you say

          I know several countries and states where this would put you in prison for a very, very long time unless you had written consent from everyone being recorded.

          So, if Google is doing the listening via "your" phone, for instance, who goes to prison in case someone does not give consent for that recording? Why is Google above the law? Or, scarily, is it actually your responsibility because you purchased an always-on listening device and failed to follow the law regarding such things?

        3. big_D Silver badge

          Re: GDPR issue??

          Illegal in many parts of Europe, you have to get permission or at least warn people that they are entering a monitored area. For example, in Germany, you cannot use a camera that monitors your driveway, if it can see the pavement or the road outside or if it records people approaching your front door.

          If you live in a block of flats, you can't use something like a Ring doorbell, if the camera is facing a public area (E.g. common hallway). You can use a camera in "private" areas (i.e. areas you would not expect a visitor to use to approach your residence - garden, rooms inside the house). But you have to have clearly visible warning signs, there are also very strict laws on how long your can retain such material.

      4. big_D Silver badge

        With voice commands, once the command has been processed, the recording should be deleted.

        Once the service is disabled, all remaining PII would have to be deleted.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Catching up, maybe???

    Is this Google getting left behind by BETTER SNOOPING TECHNOLOGY from Amazon or Microsoft?

    *

    I think we should be told!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Catching up, maybe???

      There's always one one every Google article going "Look!! M$!! Aren't they the REAL bastards here?"

      Why is that?

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        Re: Catching up, maybe???

        Latent Microsoft hate: left over from when they had they had the worlds worst agressive and outright illegal business practices.

        Relax, its Microsofthate not Googlelove.

        Its sparks and smoke from something M$ extinguished. We are many that know that Wordstar was the superior product and the ubiquity of Markdown is the living proof of this fact.

        We shall never forget. We shall never forgive.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Catching up, maybe???

      Skype for business is always listening to the microphone. When disabled in the privacy settings calls are not heard.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Catching up, maybe???

        There is a huge difference between a program that keeps the microphone live so that it can continuously "listen" for voice cues in real time, to a system that instead or in addition stores the audio for post-processing (or another purpose). People are unlikely to expect you to cover your ears if you happen to be within earshot, but would probably not be happy if you are recording them, in the same way that people will not object to you seeing their kids on the beach, but may well get very upset if you point a camera in their direction ...

  3. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Unhappy

    Oh mighty one...

    If they want to be omnipresent and all powerful, why don't they just change their name to God?

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: Oh mighty one...

      Goddle?

      1. Julz Silver badge

        Re: Oh mighty one...

        godot...

        1. Goonery

          Re: Oh mighty one...

          Godot.

          I was waiting for that.

    2. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C
      Devil

      Re: Oh mighty one...

      Because that would be misrepresentation.

      Satan yes, God no.

    3. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Oh mighty one...

      Even Goolge needs a name you can google.

      1. Drew Scriver Silver badge

        Re: Oh mighty one...

        They already have a name that labels them as omnipresent and omniscient.

        It's spelled "G-o-o-g-l-e".

        And don't forget that that they dropped "Don't be evil" from their code of conduct...

  4. Wellyboot Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "It will be down to developers to heed such warnings."

    Oh good...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Wellyboot - Re: "It will be down to developers to heed such warnings."

      That's a big relief. Developers would never abuse their users, their ethics is impeccable. Now what do I have to do to give them my personal info ? Do you think they might refuse to accept it ?

      Yeah, it's a joke! It's all a joke!

    2. X5-332960073452
      Happy

      Re: "It will be down to developers to heed such warnings."

      I think even Sheldon would get the sarcasm in that comment !

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It seems that

    advertising business is slowly declining for Google now that it has to share the turf with Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and others (cloud is also nothing they can brag about) but they still need to report growth in order to please the Wall Street moneymen. While searching for a new business model, they have intensified slurping in the hope they will find new way of monetizing the big data, something useful that would put them back on an ascending trajectory.

    1. NetBlackOps Bronze badge

      Re: It seems that

      Pre-IPO: customer acquisition, whatever the cost.

      Post-IPO: monetization, no matter how immoral or unethical.

      Thank you ever so much Wall Street.

  6. Def Silver badge

    The thing is...

    ...I would quite like being able to ask questions to an "assistant" naturally as part of any given conversation or situation and have an appropriate response in a timely manner.

    But only (and this is a huge BUT) if all audio processing is performed locally, and any subsequent searches were performed anonymously.

    Unfortunately this is Google, and their entire business model is based around non-anonymous online systems, so thanks, but no thanks.

  7. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Does not compute.

    >>>Shodjai did not explain how users will end a Continuous Match Mode.<<<

    Google ending a data collection session ... It's nice to end the week with a laugh.

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Does not compute.

      "...Shodjai did not explain how users will end a Continuous Match Mode session"

      I think a sledge hammer would do the trick!

  8. Joe W Silver badge

    Shodjai did not explain how users will end a Continuous Match Mode session but presumably this will be ...

    ... after the heat death if the universe?

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      To be fair it ends when the extra processing drains the battery to empty. A new session starts when you recharge the phone

  9. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    "Google Assistant exists in many guises such as on smartphones and watches, TVs, PCs, and also on dedicated hardware, such as the voice-only Google Home and Google Home Mini, or with "smart display" screens on the Google Nest Hub or devices from Lenovo and Harman."

    This is the lie (or rather one of many lies) Google would like perpetuated. Google Assistant is not in these devices, only a bit of software that switches the mic on and off is in these. Google Assistant is in a dark data center somewhere, one you cannot access, influence nor control. Racks of blinkenlights acknowledge the receipt of another packet of your private existence for processing, monetisation and long, long term storage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Microphone never turns off. Microphone is always on, as it's at least listening for an activation phrase.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Power without abuse never loses it's charm.

        Microphone never turns off. Microphone is always on, as it's at least listening for an activation phrase.

        Sooo.. Assuming you're not on a metered Internet connection. Stick a mic in a sound damped box, add speaker, add loop saying 'OK Google, FOAD'. Close box.

        Software types might be able to do this without hardware, although it sounds like Google's going to make it difficult to turn off snooping. Bigger challenge if people have mic enabled iThings that they are either unaware of, or can't disconnect/turn off mics.

        1. whitepines Silver badge

          Re: Power without abuse never loses it's charm.

          Sooo.. Assuming you're not on a metered Internet connection. Stick a mic in a sound damped box, add speaker, add loop saying 'OK Google, FOAD'. Close box.

          I'd bet bottom dollar after some amount of resources are used that way Google would detect "suspicious traffic" from your IP and force you to engage in a lot of unpaid Mechanical Turk AI training validate that you are human across all of its services, for some indefinite time, when trying to use them. No validation, no more load on Google's servers.

          For this to work it's a lot more complicated, you have to feed it something its AI doesn't think is garbage (this rules out even playing movies on loop in front of the mic). Some kind of random speech generator on a PC could do the trick, but then you're wasting a lot of your own resources (power, the PC itself) just to create a very slight additional load on one server of Google's millions.

          Nice try though.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Important: Do not use home storage to store any personal data.

    Oh, good. A statement that you should not use "home storage" for many of the sorts of things you might actually want to put on something called "home storage". Just as well everybody carefully reads all the warnings, otherwise all kinds of privacy-violating "accidents" might occur.

  11. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Paranoid

    I was a peace protester for a few years, and the cops kept rumbling us in advance or soon after we'd started. My first arrest, that is on me. We didn't have watches so turned on phones to check the time for a synchronised attack. Of course the military base had it's own phone base station. Doh. Didn't even have time to cut the fence.

    Next arrest, because I was the only techie I insisted no phones. Arrested before we reached the fence. The angry debrief that followed that fiasco was interrupted by an arrested protesters phone going off - and she took the call. I fell about laughing at the blatant flaw, but she was sweet and so I was blamed.

    We held planning meetings for actions, and by then I insisted on no electronics. I left my phone at home. Everyone else brought their phones, but turned them off and left them outside the room. I pointed out that everyone turning off their phone at the same time in the same place was as clear a signal something was up as the police could wish for. I was often called paranoid, when I wasn't being accused of being the leak.

    Common sense isn't only surprisingly rare, most folk are actively hostile to it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Paranoid

      Do you get a good deal on those catering pack sized tinfoil rolls?

      1. NetBlackOps Bronze badge

        Re: Paranoid

        Having worked on NSA equipment on multiple occasions and with their people, I have a much better idea of capabilities and that was completely accurate, if understated.

        1. whitepines Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Paranoid

          that was completely accurate, if understated.

          Having worked with some of the underlying commercial cell and WiFi /BT technology in $DAYJOB that the NSA etc. then hook into, the simple fact is if a device has has a radio it's a bloody position-transmitting beacon, and algorithms to correlate activity of location beacons to find unwanted patterns (mass gatherings etc.) are so trivial they could be run en masse with 1990s era technology.

          The simple fact is, in today's surveillance world, you just don't go up against the state, the state will always win, as a lot of people in China have learned the hard way (if you count understanding a problem right before you cease to be able to change behavior due to a sudden, permanent lack of brain activity "learning"). You have to change things via more legal means no matter how distasteful or seemingly impossible it is, and if your country is as fucked as China is at the moment you basically have to be willing to pick up and leave via whatever means are necessary.

          All of that is a long way of saying if you don't want your country to go a certain way, you make absolutely bloody certain that you have done and continue to do everything within your power to stop it going full on surveillance authoritarian. Even if it takes every bit of resources you have, you make sure everyone knows what that means, make sure everyone you know is deeply uncomfortable carrying a phone without strict changes to law to stop the surveillance, etc. Once a country goes surveillance authoritarian it cannot be recovered by any means short of external takeover in a war (which could happen after internal economic collapse, or just over the natural course of time) -- this isn't something you fight from a couch, this is something that takes real, continued effort to drive the vote etc. as needed without putting yourself out of action with illegal activities.

          What I wonder is if a human sized heat signature without a digital beacon (i.e. person with no cell phone) is now automatically flagged as a potential threat? Given how pervasive phones are and how few people understand they're carrying around a spy in their pocket, it would seem to be a potentially high quality signal.

          1. Drew Scriver Silver badge

            Re: Paranoid

            Very good point about a heat signature without a digital beacon being suspicous.

            Sounds like we need to step up getting people diagnosed with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) - before not carrying a mobile phone is considered a prima facie offense...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Paranoid

      Many years ago when all the miner's strikes were going on in the UK; Arthur Scargill's daughter happened to be in the same college class as me and she told me that her dad was always getting caught out when they sent so called flying pickets to random pits only for lots of police to always be waiting for them. So he had a prearranged fake telephone conversation with one of his union buddies pretending they would be picketing a particular location on a particular date and time. Sure enough the cops were there in force... Proof that Scargill's phone was being bugged by the security services.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Paranoid

        I don't doubt what you were told, but I do find it extremely hard to believe that Scargill went through any of the miner's strike without being 100% sure that his home phone, his union colleagues' home phones, and every phone line paid for by the NUM were routinely tapped, and tapped long after the strikes were finished.

        Perhaps the occasion you were told about was a demonstration for a touchingly naive doubter.

  12. gobaskof
    Headmaster

    " you can interact with the big G anywhere at any time, so pervasively that you do not notice it."

    As a physicist I would argue that this has always been true for interacting with big G. You don't don't notice it, until you fall over.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sleep walking into an advertising hell scape

    No to all this shit.

  14. Ben Tasker Silver badge

    > we discovered that running an action under development is impossible if you have the Web and App Activity permission, which lets Google keep a record of your actions, disabled.

    Related:

    Our boiler went bang, so needed a new one - we went with a Combi as that was on our "todo" list for the future anyway - along with that came a need for a new controller and thermostat.

    After much soul-searching I decided to swallow my objections, and let them install a NEST thermostat, on the basis that it'd probably save me money on heating, and I could trivially segregate it away onto it's own restricted wifi.

    So, one of the selling points of NEST is the app, and the ability to see why it's changed the heating etc (as it "learns" over time).

    Which brings me back to "Web and App Activity"

    You can't use the sodding NEST App with a google-apps domain, freebie google domains only. You _can_ share access to the app via the Google Home with a google apps user, but *only* if the entire domain has "Web and App Activity" turned On.

    So, you get to choose between

    - Giving Google Permission to record basically everything you do

    - Not being able to use the main fucking selling point of the product

    We went with option number 2.

  15. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    you say developer

    I say google stool pigeon.

  16. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    It's a problem.

    ...but it can be solved, although not in a way Google will like.

    Voice recognition has the potential to be really useful. But the issue is security, and Google (or others) listening in to everything.

    The problem changes significantly if ALL the processing is done locally, and NOTHING is ever sent to Google, by law. It's still a problem, but has moved from being a massive problem, to being one of ensuring that the law is obeyed. Fundamentally if the spooks want to bug you, they will. But we can legislate to make sure that commercial entities can't.

    Until then I'm afraid Siri, Alexa and friends will all be locked away in a dark, soundproof, lead-lined cupboard under the stairs, full of spiders.

  17. bikas

    "Do more evil"

  18. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Poison pranks

    There was an older prank for people who left their computers unlocked - spend a good 5 minutes searching for Sailor Moon (or worse) merchandise in multiple search engines. It looks like this is going to make a comeback in voice form.

  19. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    At least now I know...

    ...why Google overrode my clear intentions. I had Google Assistant turned off on my phone. Suddenly one day last week it was not only turned on but spamming me with requests to look at all the wonderful new features. It's turned off again, of course. I think. At least I disabled it. Maybe. Until Google decides for me that it should be on again.

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