Google eavesdropping tool installed on computers without permission

“Privacy campaigners and open source developers are up in arms over the secret installing of Google software which is capable of listening in on conversations held in front of a computer,” Samuel Gibbs reports for The Guardian.

“First spotted by open source developers, the Chromium browser – the open source basis for Google’s Chrome – began remotely installing audio-snooping code that was capable of listening to users,” Gibbs reports. “It was designed to support Chrome’s new ‘OK, Google’ hotword detection – which makes the computer respond when you talk to it – but was installed, and, some users have claimed, it is activated on computers without their permission.”

Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room. Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions. — Rick Falkvinge, Pirate Party founder

“Google responded to complaints via its developer boards. It said: ‘While we do download the hotword module on startup, we do not activate it unless you opt in to hotwording,'” Gibbs reports. “However, reports from developers indicate otherwise.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: “Open.”

You have to fight for your privacy or you lose it. — Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

Edward Snowden supports Apple’s stance on customer privacy – June 17, 2015
Edward Snowden: Apple is a privacy pioneer – June 5, 2015
Tim Cook gets privacy and encryption: We shouldn’t surrender them to Google – June 4, 2015
Dvorak: Google Photos is too creepy – June 3, 2015
Tim Cook attacks Google, U.S. federal government over right to privacy abuses – June 3, 2015
The price you’ll pay for Google’s ‘free’ photo storage – June 3, 2015
Apple CEO Tim Cook champions privacy, blasts ‘so-called free services’ – June 3, 2015
Passing on Google Photos for iOS: Read the fine print before you sign up for Google’s new Photos service – June 1, 2015
Why Apple’s Photos beats Google Photos, despite price and shortcomings – May 30, 2015
Is Apple is losing the photo wars? – May 29, 2015
How Google aims to delve deeper into users’ lives – May 29, 2015
Apple CEO Cook: Unlike some other companies, Apple won’t invade your right to privacy – March 2, 2015
Survey: People trust U.S. NSA more than Google – October 29, 2014
Apple CEO Tim Cook ups privacy to new level, takes direct swipe at Google – September 18, 2014
Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for government, police – even with search warrants – September 18, 2014
U.S. NSA watching, tracking phone users with Google Maps – January 28, 2014
U.S. NSA secretly infiltrated Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say – October 30, 2013
Google has already inserted some U.S. NSA code into Android – July 10, 2013
Court rules NSA doesn’t have to reveal its semi-secret relationship with Google – May 22, 2013
Edward Snowden’s privacy tips: ‘Get rid of Dropbox,” avoid Facebook and Google – October 13, 2014

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “BlackWolf” for the heads up.]


    1. Unfortunately the article didn’t specify which platforms are affected. If the Mac is one of them I would love to see a list of the files responsible for this obnoxious behavior so I could search my computer and delete them.

        1. Hazel seems to be more than what I need but the App Sweep portion sounds good, but I’d like to know more about it’s inner workings. Does it sit and monitor software installations and then keep a record of support files created during a program’s activity?

          My usual MO is to do a search on the program’s name, delete and then search on the developer’s name and delete. Obviously it has drawbacks, but I’ve had good luck with it for the most part.

  1. Another reason to be careful about who you associate with.

    Being around someone using an android phone or a chrome computer, or a computer with chrome browser, or G-mail, or…………. other Google stuff……. pretty much means you are compromising your own privacy, and you have had no choice and have never given Google permission to track you. The only choice you have is to avoid those people who use Google.

    If you work with, or are friends with, or have family members who use Google products then you loose a huge chunk of your privacy just by association. Yuck!

    1. I wonder, given the circumstances at present, if you can have other employees Android phones band from the work place. State law and union negotiations have established that you have the right to not be recorded by electronic means, unless publicly notified by your employer, as a condition of the work place.

      This is getting out of hand. Maybe I should take a giant tape recorder and have it record the work place and see how far that gets, then show them that Google is doing the same.

        1. Yes. States that allow creationism in schools don’t care that they’re graduating scientifically ignorant students, states that allow fracking that pollutes the ground water, states like Florida (of all places!) that disallow the use of the words “global warming” or “climate change” to be used in the state assembly or states like Wyoming trying to get all mention of global warming banned from science books because their state’s economy depends coal mining.

          Many states bend to religious groups or industries because the re-election of politicians hinge on support of these groups. Many politicians would and do happily sacrifice the wellbeing of their constituents to further their political careers.

    1. I’m afraid it’s way too late for that. YouTube is the only thing associated with Google that I still use. It’s darn near indispensable anymore, and I end up hitting it every day.

      Sure wish Apple had snatched it up at the time, but with their goody-two-shoes attitude about everything it wouldn’t be the same, I’m sure.

  2. Just now, I deleted so-called chromium-based “privacy” browsers (and all of their system folder bits and pieces they create). This was a wake up call. I wonder how Google/Android fans will excuse away this disturbing news.

    Here on out I’m only using Safari, Firefox and derivatives. Never used the chromium-based “privacy” and specialty browsers (namely Aviator, Epic and Torch) beyond playing with them on the first day of install.

      1. Partisanship takes many forms, tech elitism among them. And yes, all such groups behave as biological families or their social extensions, kinship groups. As such, we are kith, as are they, and we all are bound for conflict. Try to disavow a group and be your own person, and you’re shunned by all groups, suspected as a spy or traitor or radical. Haven’t we seen evidence of this principle right here on MDN, on almost a daily basis? The very term freethinker is one of opprobrium, in every circle except for freethinkers, who by definition don’t group in the first place. Each one of them starts a new group of his or her own. Some even take hold, like the ones started by Buddha, for example, or Steve Jobs.

  3. You have to fight for your privacy or you lose it. — Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

    Shouldn’t that quote read ‘You have to fight GOOGLE for your privacy or you lose it.’ 🖖😀⌚️

  4. And while we’re getting real about Google. Check this out:

    Game-over HTTPS defects in dozens of Android apps expose user passwords

    Apps downloaded more than 200 million times fail to properly encrypt login data.

    Researchers have unearthed dozens of Android apps in the official Google Play store that expose user passwords because the apps fail to properly implement HTTPS encryption during logins or don’t use it at all.

    The roster of faulty apps have more than 200 million collective downloads from Google Play and have remained vulnerable even after developers were alerted to the defects.
    . . .
    Although it wouldn’t be hard for Google to detect such shortcomings in the apps it makes available on its own servers, there’s no indication that the company does that.

    (I added emphasis above).

    Google: Finding security holes in everyone’s software except THEIR OWN. Good gawd, what a mess.

    Thank you Apple for your walled garden. It’s not perfect (see current XARA security flaws). But it’s astronomically safer than that Google Play rats nest.

  5. I have no love for Google, but this article is patently false – and it’s unfortunate to see the lack of fact checking from those parroting this one singular source.

    Both OS X and Windows Chrome browser now include a microphone in the search field – when you click on it the first time, it pops open a dialog box alerting the user what enabling the ‘OK Google’ functionality means.

    Furthermore, when activating OK GOOGLE, the functionality is only present when the separate ‘listen’ window is open, and not continuously.

    The article source is simply false.

    I’m not a Google fan – actually quite the opposite – but Google has enough to point out, without needing to fabricate lies.

    1. “Furthermore, when activating OK GOOGLE, the functionality is only present when the separate ‘listen’ window is open, and not continuously.”

      Can you absolutely be sure? I’m not saying it’s true beyond a doubt, but can you honestly trust Eric Schmidt and Google?

      Google is a parasite trying to become a symbiont. The free services and products it provides are not provided from altruism, they expect to reap enough monetary gain to pay for the development and continuing support of these services and make a profit in the process.

      Eric Schmidt saw the iPhone and immediately changed Android to mimic it. I’m sure he had to sign an NDA as a board member but he saw what was coming and ran with the information. I haven’t trusted Google since and this current accusation against Schmidt’s company doesn’t seem so farfetched. I don’t trust Google.

      1. I don’t disagree with you, and ultimately we can’t be sure – I don’t trust Google, particularly as long as that worm Eric Schmidt remains associated with it.

        Nevertheless, the mechanism described in the OP source article simply is not true in the manner they describe it – and it strikes me that they rely on the fact that 99% of readers (or parrots, like MDN) perform zero fact checking (not even launching Chrome a single time).

        Google commits enough unethical and careless violations of privacy or IP that it’s not necessary to invent stuff – don’t you think?

        1. “Google commits enough unethical and careless violations of privacy or IP that it’s not necessary to invent stuff – don’t you think?”

          Absolutely, but that’s why it’s easy to believe rumors like this. I recall talk of Google working on this technology many years ago. It might have been nothing but it was back when microphones were *just* becoming common on computers. When you hear of the neighborhood criminal being accused of a crime it’s easy to believe it’s true.

          Until Google completely disassociates itself from Schmidt, people will believe any rumors of nefarious activity. Google is an entity of a parasitic nature, never forget that.

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