Chrome update turns browsers into covert listening tools


The default behavior of hotword, a new, black-box module in Chrome (and its free/open cousin, Chromium) causes it to silently switch on your computer's microphone and send whatever it hears to Google.

Google says that hotword isn't supposed to switch on unless users enable it, but developers have documented instances in which the module triggered the mic without user intervention.

Chromium, the free/open version of Chrome, also got the module as a default update. Google blamed the package maintainers for this, saying they should not have chosen a closed module for inclusion in their version.

Falkvinge countered Google’s explanations saying: “The default install will still wiretap your room without your consent, unless you opt out, and more importantly, know that you need to opt out, which is nowhere a reasonable requirement.” He says a hardware switch to disable the microphone and camera built into most computers is needed.

Voice search functions have become an accepted feature of modern smartphones, but their movement into the home through the smart TV, and now browser, have caused concerns over the possibility of being listened to within the home.

While most services require a user to opt in, privacy advocates have questioned whether their use, which requires sending voice recordings over the internet to company servers for processing, risks unintentionally exposing private conversations held within the home.

Google eavesdropping tool installed on computers without permission [Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian]

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