The Stadia controller is “the best way to play games” on the platform according to Google, and you can use it with Android, Chromecast Ultra, and PC through the Chrome browser.
But, one thing that is potentially worth considering is whether or not the controller is a cause for privacy concern.
See, the Stadia controller comes with Google Assistant support. And, for that to work the controller needs a built-in mic. Which it has. This seems to be a little worrisome to some users. And perhaps it’s not unwarranted.
Devices like Google Home Mini, Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, and other smart speakers are essentially always listening. Listening for the activation word so you can give them commands. And it’s that aspect that has people talking. Awareness of this particular detail is brought up by a user on Twitter named @Nash076.
The built-in mic on the Stadia controller is no different than the one on your phone
Smartphones have built-in mics as well. They have to, so you can actually talk to people during a phone call. The difference between current and older smartphones is that Google Assistant is available on most smartphones these days.
An important note to make is, that the mics aren’t generally taking in much actual context of what’s being said unless the wake word has been issued. This activates the mic to listen for anything else you say that’s directed at Google. Until then, it’s listening for the wake word only.
Google also noted in a July 11 blog post that only around 0.2-percent of all audio snippets that are recorded are reviewed by language analysts. What’s more, that user accounts are said to not be associated with the snippets. Meaning the audio snippets are anonymous.
Further, reviewers are instructed not to transcribe any of the background audio. Does this mean that someone won’t? No. There’s always that possibility. In fact in that same blog post from July Google admitted that some audio had been leaked by a language analyst from its Dutch team.
Google also stated that it had taken precautions to prevent this from happening again in the future. The point is that the controller is not likely a big invasion of privacy. That also doesn’t mean that customer shouldn’t be made aware it has a built-in mic.
The Google Assistant button on the Stadia Controller doesn’t work yet
As of right now, the Google Assistant button on the controller is disabled. At least in the sense that you can’t use it to interact with the features it will provide later on.
During the most recent Reddit AMA back on November 13, it was confirmed that the button would allow feature interaction some few days after launch. Today is launch day (the end of it at least), which means it could be a few more days before you can actually use it.
According to Stadia’s director of Product, this is a rough timeline that had to be “double checked.” So, the Google Assistant button may not even work for a longer period of time.
That being said, that doesn’t mean the mic is not already on and enabled itself. It’s very possible that it is so that it’s up and running when the features are turned on.
A built-in mic and Google Assistant support doesn’t mean you should worry
Users shouldn’t automatically worry that the controller is an invasion of privacy. Yes, there’s reason for some people to have these sorts of concerns. Especially now. Privacy is a big issue these days and ultimately that privacy is put at risk with always-listening devices.
Should you immediately stop using the controller if you have one? No, not necessarily. However, it is important that people are aware of the fact that the controller has a built-in mic on it. And that it is probably going to function just as Google Home speakers do.
This is essentially less about the controller being an invasion of your privacy and more about awareness of its technology. Quite simply because it’s better to make an informed decision. That decision being whether or not to buy or use one.
Other things to keep in mind, are that you don’t need the Stadia controller if you’re playing on the phone or on your PC. With those devices, you can use a mouse and keyboard or any number of other controllers like the DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller.
If you are worried about privacy for whatever reason, you have options unless you plan to play via Chromecast Ultra. In which case you need the controller. You can also manage your audio data that’s stored in your account. Overall, you should simply enjoy your games and play how you like.
I haven’t seen any outlets report on this, but it’s kind of important:
The new Stadia controller has a built-in mic, and works with Google Assistant just like Google Home devices.Advertisement
Meaning it’s listening to you.
Do not get these horrible things. pic.twitter.com/ttjVPbDDFV
— Nash Across the 8th Dimension (@Nash076) November 19, 2019