Open-Source Browser Users Freaked Out by Google Always Listening

By James O Malley on at

Users of Google's open source Chromium web browser have expressed shock that Google is apparently listening in on their conversations, following a software update.

Computing.co.uk reports that one of the latest Chromium updates installs an extension which listens and records users, before sending their audio back to Google.

Ostensibly, this is so that the browser can have voice search functionality, listen out for the magic words of "OK Google". The problem is that the audio analysis cannot be done internally, so it essentially has to send off a recording to Google for the company's specialist systems to turn into something a computer can understand.

Chromium users are concerned because the browser is open source; in that, in theory at least, all of the code in it should be viewable and modifiable by whoever wants to see it. Privacy advocates generally like open source as it means that it is possible to go through the code line-by-line and see exactly what the software is doing. The problem with this new update is that it is a "black box" update, meaning it contains pre-compiled code that users can't see.

Google has apparently since defended itself, arguing that Chrome, which Chromium feeds into, is not open source and that if any of the open source distributors (like Debian) have a problem with it, they should disable the module themselves.

It is perhaps important to emphasise too that Chromium is not Chrome; the latter being the mainstream browser that millions of people use. (If you're not sure whether you're using Chrome or Chromium, you're almost certainly using Chrome). Though what might be a little scary and surprising for some users is that the listening module has been built into normal Chrome for ages anyway , though it can be disabled in preferences (another reason why some people are worried that Google is getting a bit creepy). [Computing]