Big Brother Google, Is That You?
Our privacy is once again in peril; seems like some have involuntarily been downloading a program that listens to our conversations.
According to The Guardian, there now exists a Google software that can listen in on our lives, 1984-style. When downloading the open source Chromium browser, users noticed an unsettling “extra feature” that came with the program. Rick Falkvinge, the creator of Pirate Party reported on Privacy Online News, that once the software was downloaded successfully, there came a status report with the following phrases: “Microphone: Yes” and “Audio Capture Allowed: Yes.”
What’s even more worrying is that Chromium at least shows us this setting. When we download Google Chrome, however, this setting is there by default. Just imagine that… RT reports that Chrome has a user base of 300 million. What a massive number of people to potentially spy on. This also raises questions regarding online casino security, too; passwords, bank accounts and security numbers can easily be acquired using this method. As Falkvinge wrote on Privacy Online news, “Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.”
Originally, the code was for “OK Google”
RT states that the creepy spy-code was initially meant to help with “OK Google.” It was supposed to aid hot word detections, which make your computer search for things on the Internet or act a bit like a secretary, making reminders and such. According to Google, “OK Google” is “the voice command used to activate Google Now voice search on your Android smartphone, as well as other Google devices such as its Google Glass smartglasses.” While we understand that this is all very high-tech and would make our lives a ton easier, the question still remains: what about our privacy?
The voice command “OK Google” is used in Google Now, which is a bit like Siri for Apple. Google states that it is “an intelligent personal assistant.” On the issue, Falkvinge added, “Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.” The really frightening part of his report is yet to come: “your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.” Thank God online gaming security risks are closely evaluated.
Google is on the defence
As a reply to allegations, Google said the following, “While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording.” But the problem with this is that according to The Guardian, software developers had a different experience. One of these developers, Ofer Zelig stated on his blog Full Stack that “While I was working I thought ‘I’m noticing that an LED goes on and off, on the corner of my eyesight [webcam]’. And after a few times when it just seemed weird, I sat to watch for it and saw it happening. Every few seconds or so.”
Google is trying to get out from under these implications by saying that Chromium is not even a product of Google and that Google doesn’t even directly sell it. They also said that Google makes no guarantees regarding the product, either. In other words, they refuse to take the blame. Again, Falkvinge retorted this theory by the following statement: “The default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out.” Precisely. In any case, the program itself is a great idea and could be used as a gambling industry innovation too (imagine just having to give orders on an online poker site,) but in its current form, it cannot be trusted.