The gaffe was first detected in the Debian mailing list when user Yoshino Yoshihito says they noticed the Chrome Hotword Shared Module was downloaded when Chromium version 43 connected to the internet. In short, according to Falkvinge, Google wants you to trust them that they won’t ever abuse your trust by activating an eavesdropping black-box code they downloaded onto your computer without your knowledge and consent.
This is true for Chromium as well, the open sourced version of Google Chrome, a playground where Google devs test features before adding them to Google’s main Chrome browser.
While the company maintains that users can opt-in or opt-out of the service, developers and users are saying that the software is initially activated without their consent, leaving opting out as the only option, unless of course you do not know that the software is even there.
“We do not know and cannot know what this black box does”, said Falkvinge.
“The key here is that Chromium is not a Google product”.
Google went on to argue against user complaints that Chromium, as an open-source project, is downloading proprietary code – placed there by Google – into its distributions.
The code is there so that users could talk to their computer using the OK Google trigger.
You can download Chromium from Softpedia, with the appropriate version for your operating system: Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. It’s hard to say, as there’s no real way of knowing what’s inside the “black box” of code. He says a hardware switch to disable the microphone and camera built into most computers is needed.
Privacy campaigners and open source developers are up in arms over the secret installing of Google software which is capable of listening in on conversations held in front of a computer.
Other readers argued that listening is not equivalent to transmitting the audio data to Google servers because it is possible – contrary to Falkvinge’s claim – that the system doesn’t transmit the data until after transmission mechanism has been activated by the voice command.
However, the code also seems to have an “eavesdropping” function that is fully equipped to record and send audio back to Google without consent – and, by default, users found that it was turned on.
To summarise, Google considers the “hotword” module’s practice of recording and sending audio an essential part of voice search, takes no responsibility for its ‘default on’ nature of recording anything being said in a room at any time, and puts the onus on people building Chromium distributions to disable such features.
Falkvinge’s argument is relevant in the context of recent Snowden disclosures of NSA spying on people’s privacy.
Falkvinge reasons questionably that the voice command is examined by Google’s servers and not by your computer.
Google has apparently quietly introduced a switch that allows you to opt out to solve the problem. Another reader pointed out the danger for users.
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