Google Home Shows Phantom Activation Overnight, But No Microphones Activated Says Google
Update 10:00 am September 20, 2018 – Google contacted Voicebot on September 19th to say that the bug was fixed after the story ran. Overnight, I confirmed that these messages no longer appear in Google Assistant My Activity notifications. To be clear, this is not related to inadvertent device activations where devices wake up when not being addressed by a user. That’s a different issue which Voicebot will report on in an upcoming article.
A little used feature of Google Assistant offers a glimpse into your usage on the smartphone and Google Home smart speakers. The My Activity feature shows you what Google Assistant heard when when you spoke. For example, if you asked for the time, it may record in My Activity, “Said ‘what time is it'” [quotations added for clarity]. However, starting sometime around August 1, 2018, a new entry was popping up in many user activity reports, including mine. It says simply, “Used Assistant.” These notification records seem to be consistently recorded between 2:00 – 5:00 am local time.
This activity is different from a standard interaction with Google Assistant on a smartphone or through Google Home. When an actual Google Home interaction takes place, My Activity report shows what spoken words were detected by Google Assistant. The detail page also shows the device that was used and provides other information.
I am confident that no one was using my Google Home overnight every night since August 1st. Also, the notifications appear linked to the number of Google Home or Google Assistant enabled smart speakers you have activated. At the beginning of August, I had one Google Home plugged in and operational at the house. During that time I received only one phantom activation notification each night. After I activated a Lenovo Smart Display, I started receiving two My Activity notifications each night.
A System Check Bug, No Microphone Activation Says Google
This is not an isolated incident. Numerous Reddit users have commented on this in at least two separate posts over the past month. The obvious question is what generated these notifications and does it mean your Google Home woke up and was listening during that time? A Google spokesperson says that the activity related to system check and shouldn’t have show up in the My Activity report. The spokesperson commented:
This is a bug in which regular maintenance activity is being logged in My Activity. The bug is not related to speakers’ mics—no audio is being recorded or stored. We’re actively working on a fix.
The bug may be squashed by the time you read this post. At least, you won’t see the activity in your report. I find the Google assurance credible that the microphone was not activated. There is no speech reported by the app as it does for other interactions. Also, the regularity points to a system check that should be logging its activity somewhere other than my app.
However, it does confirm one thing. Google is pinging your smart speaker every day and doing something, likely a system check, and maybe updating your software. These are networked devices that are tethered to the mother ship. To access the My Activity feature go into your Google Assistant mobile app, tap the compass in the upper right, tap the three dots (…) in the upper right, select My Activity from the menu.