Home Android How to preserve some privacy when you’re using a Google Assistant speaker

How to preserve some privacy when you’re using a Google Assistant speaker

How to preserve some privacy when you’re using a Google Assistant speaker

Google Assistant speakers can be great tools, giving you an easy entry into voice-controlled home automation, but they can also feel like spies giving Google intimate insights into your life and daily routines. If you don’t want to do without all of the convenience an Assistant speaker provides, there are at least some things you can do to make it less invasive.

First off, if you want to use Google Home or Nest speakers, you won’t be able to stay private 100% — that makes sense, since Google needs to process what you say to make the devices work for you. But you can prevent some extra information from being sent, and we’ve broken down all the switches you can flip to make that happen.

You should also note that neither Assistant-equipped speakers nor the competition from Amazon and Apple record you all the time. They listen for activation cues like “Hey Google” or “Ok Google” locally, and start sending data to servers only when they hear the magic words (or something that sounds similar to them).

Disable saving voice recordings

You can do something for your privacy right when you set up your new Google or Nest Home device. Just select the option to have it not retain your voice recordings. If you’ve already set up your device, you can go to your Google Account settings to deactivate the feature there. Head to them via this link or by tapping your profile picture in a Google app and then Manage your Google Account -> Manage your data & personalization -> Manage your activity controls and disable Include voice and audio recordings.

Alternatively, Google offers you to delete old data automatically when you tap on Manage Activity. You can choose between having it keep your data for three or 18 months. This might be useful if you’d like to be able to use the recordings to have an overview of what you’ve said to the Assistant, but you don’t want the company to hold on to it indefinitely.

Voice commands

If you don’t want to disable audio recordings altogether, it’s also possible to have Google delete selected sets of audio snippets. Should the Assistant have picked up something that wasn’t meant for its ears, say, “Hey Google, delete the last thing I said to you.” This also works for other timeframes of up to a week, like so: “Hey Google, delete everything  I said to you last week.” For longer periods of time, you’ll be sent to your Assistant settings for additional confirmation. You’ll also find more granular options when you’re there.

There are also variations to these exact commands, like saying, “Hey Google, that wasn’t (meant) for you.” You can also ask the Assistant to give you access to your privacy settings with the following command: “Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?” You can also say “nevermind” to stop the speaker from listening, but then the sound that made it trigger will still be saved.

Turn on accessibility ping sounds

Sometimes, an Assistant speaker will hear something that sounds like “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” to it, which will make it start listening to what you’re saying. If you’d like to be informed whenever that happens without constantly checking the device’s lights, you can activate ping sounds for when it starts and ends recording you. Head to your Google Assistant setting’s Assistant tab, scroll down to Assistant devices, and select the speakers and displays which you want to activate the pings for, and head to Accessibility, where you can turn on the sounds.

I activated this feature myself a while ago, and it made talking to the Assistant so much easier, too — no longer do I start voice commands without Google actually listening because I always wait for the ping before I continue speaking. I don’t even need to look at the speaker anymore to be sure it hears what I say. I’ve also only activated the start sound, but if you want to know exactly when the device stops listening, you should consider using both pings.

Stop sharing device usage data and crash statistics

While you’re in that menu, you should also turn off the option to send device usage data and crash statistics, if you haven’t already done that during setup. Head to your Google Assistant’s settings -> Assistant and look for the overview of your Home and Nest devices. Choose one of them, scroll down, and you should see an option to stop sharing your data. If you have more than one device, repeat with each individually.

Manage and review your voice activity

If you want to have an overview of what Google saves to its servers when you talk to the Assistant, go to https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and filter by Assistant. You’ll get a searchable overview of everything you’ve said to the Assistant that was saved by Google. It’s possible to re-listen and delete specific entries, and you can filter by timeframes.

This might help you judge if Assistant picked something up you’ve said that wasn’t meant for it before you turned on the ping sounds.

Turn off personal results by removing Voice Match

There are also ways that help you stay more private when you have nosy guests. When you set up a smart speaker, Google will offer to give you personal results like emails, contacts, calendar events, and more by turning on Voice Match. This will also allow you to use routines specific to you. However, if you fear that your guests might try to imitate your voice to access intimate details, you can turn off that personal results while they’re over. You can do that by going to your Assistant settings, choosing the device in question, scrolling all the way down, and choosing Remove Voice Match. This might be something you want to do for a Home positioned in a guest room or otherwise more publicly available place, like the kitchen.

In the same vein, anyone can control casted media on your Home or Nest speaker via a notification shown on their Android device. There’s an option to deactivate that in your device’s settings.

None of these things will be enough if you fear you might be wiretapped by a smart speaker — we won’t even try to convince you to put such a device in your home if that’s the case. But if you just want to have a little less data floating around the web while still enjoying the features Google’s technology enables, these tips might be for you.