Google Smart Speakers Offer Guest Mode for Privacy
The voice-activated setting stops speakers from collecting data about your interactions
Google smart speakers are getting a new setting that will allow consumers to significantly boost the privacy of their devices using voice commands, instead of having to sort through menus on the Home app.
The new setting, called Guest Mode, limits the device's ability to collect data about users' interactions with Google Assistant on the speaker, while retaining most of the popular functionality, including the option to field questions, play music, set timers, and control smart home devices.
Guest Mode is available now on all Google smart speakers, as well as Google-compatible models from other manufacturers, and can be activated by saying "Hey, Google, turn on Guest Mode."
Deleting More Than the Recordings
To fully grasp what Guest Mode does, it helps to understand what information a smart speaker collects.
First, it can keep a record of everything you say as both an audio file and a written transcript ("Hey, Google, turn off my office light.")
Google lets you see and delete these recordings and transcripts and set up the speaker so that they're either not saved or deleted automatically.
But even when it's set up so recordings are not saved, your smart speaker keeps a log of your activity, which can be used to build a profile of your behavior. It knows, for example, that you asked for the office light to be turned off at 8:03 p.m. on Tuesday.
When it's in Guest Mode, the speaker no longer keeps a record of interactions like those.
"In Guest Mode, your interactions with the Assistant will be immediately deleted, just like if you went to the My Activity tab on the Home App and clicked "delete," but you don’t have to take that step," said a Google spokesperson in an email to Consumer Reports.
Guest Mode can also be turned off by voice command ("Hey, Google, turn off Guest Mode"). You can ask the speaker if Guest Mode is enabled, as well.
Google has introduced a number of other privacy improvements that make it easier for consumers to use its smart speakers. Google Assistant can now answer questions about security ("Hey, Google, how do you keep my information private?") and quickly delete things you say ("Hey, Google, delete what I just said" or "Hey, Google, delete everything I said this week.")
The company also allows you to adjust the speaker's sensitivity to the "Hey, Google" wakeword. In the Google Home App, select the Home button on the left, then the device name > Settings > Hey Google sensitivity and adjust the slider.
As researchers at Northeastern University have demonstrated, smart speakers often start recording after hearing a phrase that sounds like the wakeword, although they stop recording quickly when the error becomes apparent.