Ten consumer and privacy groups are officially requesting a recall of the Google Home Mini. The letter has been co-signed and submitted to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) by a number of groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) requesting that the CPSC undertakes a recall of the Google Home Mini in the US.
Unlike the Galaxy Note 7 which did eventually end up being recalled after its release, these advocacy groups are requesting a recall before the unit has actually gone on general sale or begun shipping out to buyers. However, the issue itself is one which had already shown up on review units sent out to tech and news outlets. Specifically the issue surrounds the top touch functionality of the Home Mini and how some units were suffering from ‘phantom touches’ where the unit would respond as if it had been touched, even though it had not. Where the privacy issue comes in is that the phantom touch activation resulting in the unit adopting a ‘listening’ mode’ and in some cases, recording what it hears. All of course, without the owner's awareness that it is happening.
While this is an issue that Google has since acknowledged, the company also did state that it was only affecting a small number of units, while also initially confirming it would send out an update to temporarily disable the top touch functionality while a more long-term solution was decided on and applied. Since then however, Google clarified its position rather quickly by deciding to change the update so that when it does roll out it would permanently disable the top touch functionality. Something which Google stated was to offer “complete peace of mind” to Google Home Mini owners. In spite of these moves by Google to try and rectified the situation, the consumer and privacy groups argue that due to the sensitive nature of the flaw – its ability “to intercept and record private conversations in homes without the knowledge or consent of the consumer” – along with the inherently fundamental nature of the flaw means there is no easy solution to the problem. With the letter specifically stating “this is a classic manufacturing defect that places consumers at risk” while suggesting a recall is in the only real option available to guarantee the protection of consumer privacy. Interestingly, while the letter hones in on the Google Home Mini, it also takes the opportunity to draw attention to the wider issue of IoT and connected devices and their increasing ability to encroach on privacy – with the letter closing by stating “Google Home Mini is just one of many Internet-connected consumer products that pose a risk to consumer safety.”