Is your Google Home or Nest secure? How to find and delete your private data

Is your Google Home or Nest secure? How to find and delete your private data


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Google Home devices have a physical mute switch, but it shuts off the microphone completely. To use voice commands with your device but still control how much voice data Google Assistant holds onto, you’ll need to change a few settings.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Relying on Google Home ($100 at Best Buy) to organize your digital life requires something of a trade-off with regards to your personal data, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your sense of privacy just to get your smart speaker to work for you. It’s totally possible, through a combination of security settings and responsible privacy practices, to minimize the amount and kind of data you share with Google yet still take advantage of Google Home’s hands-free conveniences. The key is knowing how much information your Google Home can live without without becoming useless.

Starting in June, new Google accounts will automatically delete private data for you. But only after 18 months by default. And only if you’re a brand new Google user. That’s great if you’re setting up your first Google Home device or Gmail address or you just got your first Android phone, but if you’re among the 1.5 billion people on Gmail or the 2.5 billion people using Android already, your account is set to hold onto your private data forever unless you tell Google otherwise.

If you love using your Google Home but want to control how many voice recordings or how much location information and other personal data Google keeps, these are the settings that you’ll need to adjust to fine-tune your privacy controls.

Check which actions you’ve enabled

Unlike on Amazon Echo devices with Alexa, which require you to enable third-party skills before you can use them, most Google Assistant actions are baked into the software, needing only a voice command to activate. That puts most of the responsibility for protecting your privacy on Google. That said, some actions do require you to set them up, especially when you connect smart home devices such as lights and door locks to Google Home. To see a list of all the actions you’ve manually enabled:

1. Open the Google Assistant app (not the Google Home app) on your mobile device. (If you don’t have the Assistant app, head to the iOS App Store or Google Play and download it.)

2. Tap the explore icon (the little compass needle in a circle) in the bottom right corner.

3. Scroll all the way to the bottom and tap Your Actions.

4. Tap Linked.

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Google touted 500 million Google Assistant users at CES 2020 with giant “Hey Google” billboards.


James Martin/CNET

From here you can see all the actions you’ve specifically authorized. Most likely you’ll see your music services (such as Pandora or Spotify) and smart home devices (like Nest or Wemo). If you see any you don’t recognize or no longer need (for example, if you switched music services) here’s how to delete them:

1. Tap the more information icon (three horizontal lines) to the right of the linked service you want to delete. 

2. Scroll down to Account status.

3. Tap Unlink.

4. When the app prompts you for confirmation, tap Unlink.

Look up everything Google Assistant has on you

First, you’ll want to navigate to the Settings page that details all the information Google has been keeping on you.

1. Open your Google Home app.

2. Tap your personal icon (it could be your photo or a silhouette) in the upper right corner.

3. Select Assistant settings from the menu bar that appears.

4. Tap Your data in the Assistant (it should be the first option listed).

Here you can scroll as far back as your record goes through every piece of information Google Assistant has been keeping about you. You can delete items one at a time by tapping the trash can icon beside each item, or you can follow the next set of steps to delete all of it.

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Every interaction you have with Google Home is logged, including audio recordings of your voice commands, unless you tell Google Assistant not to.


Google

Delete some or all of your private data

Google Assistant saves audio recordings of every voice command Google Home has ever heard (including false triggers), which helps the software to understand your voice and execute future commands better, but isn’t critical to the device’s operation. Here’s how to delete that, and all other data:

1. Go to the Your data in the Assistant page. Under Your Assistant activity tap My Activity.

2. To the right of the search bar at the top of the page, tap the icon of three stacked dots.

3. Tap Delete activity by.

4. If you want to start over with a clean slate, tap All time. Otherwise, you can choose to delete all data collected in the Last hour, Last day or create a Custom range, say, from the day you started using Google Home until last month.

5. The app will ask you to confirm that you would like to delete your Google Assistant Activity for the specified period. Tap Delete to confirm.

6. You’ll see this message: “Deletion complete.” In the lower-right corner, tap Got it to return to the main Google Assistant Activity page.






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Choose how often your data will be deleted

If you don’t mind letting Google Assistant remember your recent interactions with it, you can set the data to be deleted automatically after either 3 or 18 months. From the main Google Assistant Activity page:

1. On the Your data in the Assistant page, under Your Assistant activity tap My Activity and then tap the icon of three stacked dots to the right of the search bar at the top.

2. Tap Keep activity and then choose whether you want to keep activity forever (Keep until I delete manually), Keep for 18 months or Keep for 3 months.

3. When the app asks you to confirm the change, scroll to the bottom of the page and tap Confirm.

4. Tap Got it to return to the main Google Assistant Activity page. 

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The Google Nest Hub has a physical mute switch, but the Google Nest Hub Max, which has a webcam, does not have a physical shutter to cover the camera.


Chris Monroe/CNET

The most extreme privacy option: Pause all activity

Instead of regular purges, you can set Google Assistant to no longer keep logs of your data at all, but that may cause some hiccups with how well Google Assistant functions, if it functions at all. If your privacy is of the utmost importance to you and you’re willing to deal with anything from a few glitches from time to time to a fully non-functional Google Assistant, from the main Google Assistant Activity page:

1. Scroll down to Web & App Activity is on and tap Change setting.

3. Turn off the toggle beside Web & App Activity.

4. A screen will pop up, warning you that “pausing Web & App Activity may limit or disable more personalized experiences across Google services.” At the bottom of that screen, press Pause to stop Google from logging your activity. Note that changing this setting does not delete any of your personal data from Google, it only stops Google Assistant from recording more data going forward.

After you press Pause, you’ll be returned to the main Google Assistant Activity page.

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Google Assistant is always listening when you have a Google Home smart speaker in your house.


Chris Monroe/CNET

That’s it — now you don’t have to declare open season on your private life or your personal data to enjoy your Google Home smart speaker or hub. This may be especially important if you’re concerned about Google restarting the human-powered quality assurance program it suspended in August in which reviewers listened to recordings collected from many of the over 3.2 million Google Home devices in the wild. 

Not to mention, smart speakers are just the beginning: nowadays robot dogs record your face and voiceAmazon uses human reviewers to troubleshoot security camera problems and Facebook admits to letting employees listen in on your video calls.





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