I have been a proponent of smart speakers for a while now. I've never been overly concerned about them listening to me, or spying on me, or recording my conversations and sending them to people in my contacts. Those fears are valid, but they're not my fears.
Lately, though, I've been growing more concerned.
Both the HomePod and the Google Home Max have been randomly speaking — or lighting up and listening in without being prompted — several times a week. Both devices will listen in when anything is said that remotely resembles their wake words, or they'll just jump in on conversations, uninvited.
A prime example: A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch watching a new episode of "True Detective." In one scene, the main characters are poking around the yard of a murder suspect while he isn't home. It was a tense — and more importantly, quiet — scene, if not a particularly scary one.
All of a sudden, without warning, Siri quietly said, "Hi."
It took my boyfriend and I a full beat to realize it didn't come from the show itself. Siri had just made her presence known for no reason at all.
This isn't unusual. Siri will speak, unprompted, all the time. One time, she literally spoke in tongues while my sister and I were chatting across the room. Other times, Siri will suddenly say things like, "I'm listening," which I know is standard when Siri is activated and then you don't say anything, but is not exactly reassuring to hear, especially when I didn't prompt her in the first place.
If you think Google Assistant is any better, though, you'd be wrong. The Google Home Max listens in all the time. It doesn't wait for a pesky wake word — in fact, it appears to have totally emancipated itself, and it now listens in whenever it feels like it, at strange and sometimes inopportune moments.
For example, in that same episode of "True Detective" a few weeks back, Mahershala Ali's character says something truly heinous that I cannot repeat here (if you've seen season 3, episode 2, you may know what I'm talking about). For some reason, Google Assistant chose that particular moment to tune in. I can promise you, what he said definitely didn't resemble "Hey Google."
After that, we've become deeply concerned about what sort of information Google has tied to my account, and I'm a little worried about what my search results may start looking like.
This happens all the time. About 50% of the time someone says "Hey" or "OK" in my apartment, the Google Home Max starts listening. While it's supposed to wait for the full phrase — "Hey Google" or "OK Google" — it often ignores that mandate in favor of listening in on what we're saying. The device doesn't talk out of turn as often as the HomePod does, but the Google Home Max has a major eavesdropping problem.