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Google Assistant to Add ‘Hotword Sensitivity’ to Limit Accidental Awakenings: Report 

Google is working on a way to reduce how often people inadvertently activate Google Assistant, according to a report from 9to5Google. The “hotword sensitivity” software found inside the latest Google app beta will enable users to control how easy it is to alert the voice assistant.

Google Assistant Sensitivity

Google has discussed the issues of accidental activation and how they want to address it, but this is the first indication of one way they are going about it. Once the feature is in place on a smart speaker with Google Assistant, the sensitivity can be adjusted like any other setting. Currently, there are three levels of sensitivity in the software. Users can make the voice assistant ignore all but the most direct calls of “Hey Google,” or adjust it to trigger more easily so that the voice assistant can hear you in a noisy room. According to the report, the setting can be adjusted for individual devices, so that smart speakers in bedrooms and living rooms don’t have to have the same sensitivity. Phones don’t seem to be included in the options, at least for now.

Unwanted Awakenings

Mistakenly activating voice assistants is a very common incident. Close to two-thirds of voice assistant users have done so in a month, according to a recent survey. And of course, that doesn’t include all of the times it happens without anyone noticing. It can be annoying or embarrassing to suddenly have your voice assistant respond without you wanting it to. BBC meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker can attest to that after Apple’s Siri voice assistant interrupted and outright contradicted his predictions about the weather live on TV.

The bigger issue is privacy. Most people are unsure or unaware of what voice assistants hear and share, leading to suspicion about quality control programs like the kind that plagued Google and other voice assistant developers all last summer. Adjusting the programs and upping transparency helped, but that doesn’t apply to the accidental awakenings. Google has been keen to reassure customers that their data is protected and private, with new features like the voice commands for checking and deleting recordings the company debuted at CES this month. The new setting might be a boost to that campaign, assuring people that the voice assistant is less likely to turn on when they don’t want it to.


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