Is Google Listening to You? Chrome’s Voice Search “Feature” may be problematic

Chrome has a feature called [voicesearch]( which allows someone using Chrome to initiate a search by saying “OK Google” followed by search terms.

In order to enable this feature, Chrome has to continuously monitor the microphone, analyze what is said, so that the initiating phrase can be identified.  You can see your settings here if you are on Chrome right now.  Strangely, this is something that you cannot control from Settings at all.

For those of us like me, who often work on confidential matters, and use a computer that runs Chrome, this is very disconcerting.  You can hypothetically turn off the microphone access, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to stick, if you recheck your settings.  Disabling the OK Google feature itself is relatively easier.  If you want to turn off the microphone access you have to do the following:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Select “Show Advanced Settings” at the bottom of the screen
  • Select “Content Settings” button under the Privacy label
  • Scroll down to Media. You can’t just turn off the mic.
  • Select Do Not Allow sites to access your camera and microphones
  • Select Manage Exceptions.
  • Delete the entry for google

Congratulations you have now turned off the microphone access for Google Chrome.  Maybe.  Because if you restart Chrome & go back, the Voice Search page will still show that the Microphone is on, as is Audio Capture Allowed.  At least it does for me.

Now from a legal perspective, Google may be within its rights to do whatever it wants, though their EULA does not appear to address this, and I certainly wasn’t aware of it (and thus did not give consent.) But just because it’s legally permitted does not make it acceptable.

It appears that your choice, if you are concerned about audio monitoring, is either to get rid of Chrome or wait for someone who is sufficiently tech savvy to provide a fix.  I will update this post if I find a solution to this problem.  If not, I will be getting rid of Chrome and going back to a stripped down version of Firefox.

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