Google Nest (2)

Google Assistant Goes Incognito With Upcoming Guest Mode Privacy Feature

Google is translating the incognito windows of a web browser into voice through the newly announced Guest Mode feature for Google Assistant. Like incognito mode in Chrome or Firefox, switching to Guest Mode keeps the voice assistant from accessing a user’s account to get personalized responses and automatically not save any interaction. The feature is one of Google’s latest efforts to highlight its focus on privacy for its customers.

Guest Google

Guest Mode will roll out over the next few weeks, according to Google. Once available, any Google Nest smart speaker or smart display owner can activate with a voice command asking Google Assistant to turn it on or off. During the time it’s on, Google Assistant will still work as usual, but without any personalization that comes with a Google account. The idea seems to have two main appeals. As the name suggests, it offers guests a way to use the voice assistant without adding new data that could mess with the responses Google Assistant gives the device’s owner. At the same time, Guest Mode is a quick way to use Google Assistant on behalf of someone else, or should the owner not want to remember to specifically remember to ask Google Assistant to erase any recent audio.

“Every day, Google Assistant helps people get things done in their home, whether it’s suggesting a new recipe you might like or reminding you of your next appointment. But there are times you may not want your Assistant interactions saved to your Google Account,” Google explained in a blog post. “That’s why in the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing Guest mode—a new way to use your Google Assistant on home devices. With an easy voice command, you can turn on Guest mode, and your Assistant interactions while in this mode won’t be saved to your account. You can turn off Guest mode at any time to get the full, personalized Google Assistant experience again.”

While the Guest Mode that Google is rolling out is a new feature for its voice assistant, the name may sound familiar. That’s because “guest mode” was a feature that let people connect to a Google smart speaker and stream music without connecting to the device’s wifi network. Activating guest mode generated a PIN that the visitor could use instead. Google ended support for the feature on smart speakers and smart displays in January, although it remains available for Chromecast devices. There didn’t seem to be a reason to shut down the feature at the time, but it’s certainly possible it was in anticipation of naming the new feature the same thing.

Private Talk

Google framed the new feature as one of several new security and privacy measures. The company is on a continual quest to improve the perception of how it handles user data. After the furor last summer over the way Google Assistant and other voice assistants collect and study audio data, Google has shifted to an opt-in version of the program for human reviews of audio recorded by its software, encouraging people to sign up in an August email.  A week later, Google admitted that some of its smart speakers this year recorded people even without wake word activation due to a software error, possibly because of the revamp in May of the Nest Aware subscription service. Guest Mode fits with the larger strategy of adding new features aimed at soothing people’s worries. Options like voice commands for checking and deleting Google Assistant recordings and hotword sensitivity controls to limit accidental awakenings may make people feel better about using Google Assistant. A vocal version of incognito mode will likely add plenty more people to the list of reassured Google Assistant users.


Google Admits Some Smart Speakers Mistakenly Recorded People Without Wake Word Activation

Google, Promising Privacy, Asks Voice Assistant Users to Join Audio Review Program

Google Assistant Adds New Commands in an Attempt to Ease Privacy Worries