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.

An interesting introduction to a EULA & a smart thing to do

I downloaded Omnigraffle today, and as for most software, you must agree to an End User License Agreement, or EULA, before installing the software. However, Omnigraffle does something unusual, with their EULA. The beginning of the EULA is a short paragraph that starts out:

The document that follows this paragraph is a license agreement. Why do we need such a thing?  Well, to be perfectly honest, our lawyers have told us that we need to protect ourselves. …

It’s a very friendly type of beginning, implying that of course the makers of Omnigraffle do not to make you deal with software licensing, but you know how lawyers are.  It then has the usual explanation, about people suing in different jurisdictions, and people misusing software.  But it is the closing of the first paragraph that caught my attention.  This is how they close:

Obviously, if you disagree, click “Disagree.”  But, don’t just stop there.  Let us know.  Send some email to <> telling us what you find unacceptable about our license agreement.  We can’t promise to change anything, but we will do our best to get back to you.

Now this is a wonderful idea. Not only does it make me want to read the license, it makes me want to communicate with them, and makes them feel much more reasonable than the usual EULA types.

Given that I often have issues with Software EULAs online — primarily because anything security oriented cannot include a clause that says “and we can change all this at any time without notice to you” — having a EULA that invites me to explain my concerns is a breath of fresh air.  Well done OmniGraffle!