Most headlines in the past year have pointed out that Google Assistant is winning the artificial intelligence game against Apple’s Siri. Maybe so or maybe not but I think it does not matter because Google and Apple are playing in different games.
Whenever a scandal or controversy arises it’s always best to follow the money trail. Apple makes money the old fashioned way. It makes a product. You buy the product. Google’s money trail is more convoluted, indirect to the point of abstract. With Google, you’re not the customer as much as you are part of the product.
Let me compare what Apple knows about you and how it uses that information vs. what Google knows about you and how it uses that information, and then compare both to the products you buy and use from each tech giant.
What does Apple know about you? Which product you bought and when. Beyond that, I got nothing. Apple anonymizes a tremendous amount of information it gathers from customers so other than your subscription to Apple Music or trips to the Genius Bar or which product you own, Apple does not know much about you.
Compare that to Google. While the search giant now has some hardware products you can buy (more on that in a moment) most of what Google does is gather personal information about you; you’re online search habits, for example. What your email messages say, which websites you visit and when, which ads you click on, and so much more information that the company has what amounts to a personal dossier on each user.
Remember, with Google, you’re not a customer until you buy a product. Otherwise, the data Google gathers about you becomes part of the data product the company sells to advertisers.
Google Assistant is Google’s version of Siri, and the application, which resides in the cloud, is smart and fast; notably more so than Apple’s Siri or even Amazon’s Echo Alexa. Assistant sounds more human, answers in more human ways, and tied into Google’s new hardware line of Echo-like devices, seems to be skating to where the puck will be while Siri and Alexa watch; dumbstruck.
What does this mean?
Any owner of a Google smartphone, specifically the Pixel line, needs to know how much information Google collects and uses and it is not trivial. It also means Google’s new hardware has capabilities that are downright ominous. Technology reviewers talk about Google Home Mini and Google Home Max as if they are there to converse with us. They are not. The technology is little more than spy tech now firmly embedded into the home.
Google’s new devices have speakers and microphones. The speakers can send sound waves throughout a room, and the microphones can pick up sound. With enough customers, Google’s artificial intelligence and machine learning can determine how many humans are in the room, determine the furniture layout and walls, and with smarts where the puck will be, determine what kind of furniture you have, and with the microphone, listen to every conversation in the room.
Crazy? Artem Russakovskii found his new Home Mini listened in on conversations 24/7.
Without fail, every time a new listening device comes to market, some tinfoil hat-wearer points out how perfect they would be as modern-day Trojan horses for any of the three-letter acronym organizations – NSA, CIA, FBI – you name it.
Uh huh. We already know Amazon’s Echo has done exactly that. These devices work much the same way. They respond to a key word. They respond to a podcast or TV show. They hear a sound they think is a keyword. It happens. Often.
That is until last week, when a 4th case came along – 24/7 recording, transmission to Google’s servers, and storing on them of pretty much everything going on around my Home Mini, which I had just received at the Made by Google October 4th launch event… All of this was done quietly, with only the four lights on the unit I wasn’t looking at flashing on and then off.
Simply put, his Google Home Mini went rogue and started collecting every conversation in the room. Yes, it was due to a hardware flaw, and it’s likely a software flaw could do the same thing.
But isn’t that kind of continuous monitoring exactly what Google and Amazon want from their devices and customers? Follow the money trail. Those companies gather information about you in exchange for cleverly designed applications and some useful hardware.
Should we fear Apple’s Siri? Or, should we fear Google’s Assistant in Pixel, Home Mini, Home Max combo?