Google Pixel's Voice Unlock Feature Could be Abused by Cops

To kick off the Fall smartphone season, Google launched the Pixel and Pixel XL not too long ago, and now they're in the hands of many a customer that took the time to pre-order one. Reviews - including our own - of the device have been positive, and it's clear that the choices Google made in the Pixel and Pixel XL design process are paying off for the Internet giant. While there's still some debate going on about the price and marketing approach from Google, the general consensus is that these are some of the best smartphones to hit the market all year long. There is one feature, however, that is causing controversy among some owners, and it's a feature some of you might have even overlooked.

The Pixel and Pixel XL not only come with a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device, but they also feature a voice unlock feature. When users with a Pixel set up the voice recognition software for the "Ok Google" command, the software automatically turns on a voice unlock feature. This is a pretty convenient way for users with a Pixel smartphone to unlock their device, there's no denying that, but it could be used in the wrong sort of way, too. This is sort of feature that ex-NSA employee David Kennedy was surprised to see activated as default, as it could lead to users being forced to unlock their devices by simply saying "Ok Google". There are Fifth Amendment concerns here, but it's likely they won't come into play, as uttering a simple phrase used by millions of other phones is probably not going to be taken as being "self-incriminating".

Professor of Law at the George Washington University, Orin Kerr, says that the Fifth Amendment should extend to this sort of unlocking method, as it is only likely to become more common. Kerr argues that, in line with legal precedent, Police have been able to obtain fingerprints and voice recordings before, as these aren't considered to be testimonial evidence, and therefore don't come under any protection from the Fifth Amendment. For Pixel users looking to turn this off, it's the Trusted Voice feature that needs to be disabled and can be done so by turning off "Ok Google" recognition anywhere.

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Tom Dawson

Former Editor-in-Chief
For years now I've had a heavy interest in technology, growing up with 8-bit computers and gaming consoles has fed into an addiction to everything that beeps. Android saved me from the boredom of iOS years ago and I love watching the platform grow. As an avid reader and writer nothing pleases me more than to write about the exciting world of Android, Google and mobile technology as a whole.
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