Google Pixel Buds

Google Pixel Buds

Google
Bluetooth

Review date: Nov. 9, 2022

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Mozilla says

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People voted: Super creepy

Google's Pixel Buds include the A-Series and the higher end Pro version. These little guys include features like high quality audio, adaptive sound that adjusts to your surroundings, sensors and mics that can pick your voice up in a crowd. They even work directly with Google Translate to give you real-time translation right in your ears of languages spoken around you. Push a button, say, "Hey Google, help me speak French," and then speak in your normal language. Then your phone will translate to French for you. Groovy, although we know how funky Google Translate can get so, you know, just be careful with your French.

What could happen if something goes wrong?

“OK, Google.” That’s pretty much exactly how we think Google does when it comes to privacy. They are OK, if you consider the fact that they are a ginormous data collecting advertising company that makes billions of dollars off your personal information. This is the world we live in now, though, and there are other Big Tech companies doing a worse job than Google at protecting and respecting your privacy (looking at you Meta/Facebook). It’s really unfortunate just how low the bar has gotten when it comes to privacy these days.

That said, you should be aware Google is a huge ad company that needs lots and lots of your data to sell ads. What sorts of data does Google collect on you? Well, there are those voice recordings when you go, “Hey Google, what are the symptoms of the latest coronavirus variant?” And while Google promises that your voice recordings won’t be used to send you personalized ads, they do say the transcripts of your voice interactions with your Google smart speaker may. Google also collects things like your location, information about things near your devices like wi-fi access points and bluetooth enabled devices, people you communicate with, purchase activity, voice and audio information, your favorite songs on Spotify, what things you search for, what things you ask Google, when you turn your lights on if you have smart lights, when you use it to run your robot vacuum, and so much more.

Of course, Google uses your personal information to sell those targeted, personalized ads you see all over the place like in your Gmail, in your favorite Solitaire app, on partner websites, and on YouTube. Yup, the ads are everywhere. Although, Google does say they won’t use things like your sexual orientation, race, and health to show you ads…although we just have to trust them on that. I’m sure we’ve all seems ads based on sensitive things about us that felt pretty creepy. And Google says they won’t use content from your Google Drive, Email, or Photos to personalize ads. We sure hope not.

We do like that people who use Google’s AI voice assistant are now automatically opted out of Google's human review of voice recordings, because that was super creepy. We also like that Google does try to communicate with users how they collect and use data in their Safety Center. Google does collect a ton of data on you, especially if you don't take the time to adjust your privacy settings to lock down just how much info they can gather. You should absolutely take the time to adjust these privacy settings. Just beware, you will get notifications that some things might not work right if you change settings. That’s annoying, and probably worth it for a little more privacy.

As for Google’s track record at protecting and respecting your privacy, well, it’s a mixed bag. Google does pretty good at the security side of protecting all that heaps of data they collect on your. It is their money making business asset, after all. Unfortunately, Google also has a spotty track record at respecting privacy, as seen in the multitude of fines and lawsuits that have been thrown at them all around the world for violating privacy laws and protections. South Korea fined Google (and Meta) millions of dollars recently for privacy violations. So did France and Spain. And in the US, Google has faced a host of lawsuits and settlements from Texas, California, DC, Illinois, Arizona, the Federal Trade Commission, and more. All this makes it pretty hard to trust what a company says they do with that massive amount of personal information they collect on you.

What’s the worst that could happen? Well, If you don't take the time to lock down all your privacy settings, it's possible Google could know that you like to listen to Taylor Swift on repeat and order lots of ice cream from the store. Based on that, Google decides you must be sad and starts showing you ads for homeopathic mood boosters. You try one, it doesn't work, but now you're on the mailing list of every weird vitamin company out there. Maybe it's OK Google knows you so well? Maybe it's creepy. (OK, we think it’s pretty creepy). What’s even creepier these days is the possibility that your Google searches and location information and more could potentially be used to harass, arrest, and even prosecute people in the United States seeking reproductive health care. That’s not just creepy, that’s downright harmful.

Tips to protect yourself

  • Consider using your headphones without connecting it to an app. This way, you may decrease amount of data collected
  • Do not sign up with third-party accounts. Better just log in with email and strong password.
  • Chose a strong password! You may use a password control tool like 1Password, KeePass etc
  • Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images, location unless neccessary)
  • Keep your app regularly updated
  • Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
  • Request your data be deleted once you stop using the app. Simply deleting an app from your device usually does not erase your personal data.
  • When starting a sign-up, do not agree to tracking of your data if possible.
mobile Privacy warning Security A.I.

Can it snoop on me? information

Camera

Device: No

App: No

Microphone

Device: Yes

App: No

Tracks location

Device: No

App: No

What can be used to sign up?

What data does the company collect?

How does the company use this data?

Google does not share data with third parties for their own advertisement purposes. Google does not sell personal data.

Google shares data with its affiliates and business partners: "We provide personal information to our affiliates and other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures. For example, we use service providers to help operate our data centers, deliver our products and services, improve our internal business processes, and offer additional support to customers and users. We also use service providers to help review YouTube video content for public safety and analyze and listen to samples of saved user audio to help improve Google’s audio recognition technologies."

At the same time, Google uses collected data on its own services. "We use the information we collect to customize our services for you, including providing recommendations, personalized content, and customized search results."

Google may collect data on you from public and third-party sources. "In some circumstances, Google also collects information about you from publicly accessible sources. For example, if your name appears in your local newspaper, Google’s Search engine may index that article and display it to other people if they search for your name. We may also collect information about you from trusted partners, such as directory services who provide us with business information to be displayed on Google’s services, marketing partners who provide us with information about potential customers of our business services, and security partners who provide us with information to protect against abuse. We also receive information from advertising partners to provide advertising and research services on their behalf."

Google also uses personal data for personalised advertisement, if a user allows: "Depending on your settings, we may also show you personalized ads based on your interests. For example, if you search for “mountain bikes,” you may see an ad for sports equipment when you’re browsing a site that shows ads served by Google. You can control what information we use to show you ads by visiting your ad settings."

Google uses location for advertisement, too. It gets location from various sources: "Google’s ad products may receive or infer information about your location from a variety of sources. For example, we may use the IP address to identify your general location; we may receive precise location from your mobile device; we may infer your location from your search queries; and websites or apps that you use may send information about your location to us. Google uses location information in our ads products to infer demographic information, to improve the relevance of the ads you see, to measure ad performance and to report aggregate statistics to advertisers."

Google may combine information about you from their other services or devices. "We may combine the information we collect among our services and across your devices for the purposes described above. For example, if you watch videos of guitar players on YouTube, you might see an ad for guitar lessons on a site that uses our ad products."

Google says they keep video footage, audio recordings, and home environment sensor readings separate from advertising, and they won’t use this data for ad personalization.

How can you control your data?

Google provides various privacy controls, accessible via Google Privacy tools. There are several clearly defined ways to delete personal data, including deleting data from Nest app or deleting a whole Google Account. An autotimer can be set up for 3 or 18 months. The retention details are also listed in the Policy.

"When you delete data in your Google account, we immediately start the process of removing it from the product and our systems. First, we aim to immediately remove it from view and the data may no longer be used to personalize your Google experience."

To delete Google Home search history and voice recordings: See the "Data deletion" section of Data security and privacy on devices that work with Assistant.

Google sets various data retention timeframes for different data types: "In some cases, rather than provide a way to delete data, we store it for a predetermined period of time. For each type of data, we set retention timeframes based on the reason for its collection. For example, to ensure that our services display properly on many different types of devices, we may retain browser width and height for up to 9 months. We also take steps to anonymize certain data within set time periods. For example, we anonymize advertising data in server logs by removing part of the IP address after 9 months and cookie information after 18 months."

What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?

Needs Improvement

Google received plenty of fines from European, American, and Korean authorities in the last few years. The biggest was the $170M fine from New York Attorney General for mishandling the children consent. The other cases include the fine of $100M for violating the Biometric Information Privacy Act in Illinois, $71.8M fine for mishandling consent in South Korea, $57M fine for violating GDPR in France, as well as other fines from local Data Protection Authorities in Ireland, Italy, Spain.

In 2022 Google agreed to a nearly $392 million dollar legal settlement with 40 US states "for charges that it misled users into thinking they had turned off location tracking in their account settings even as the company continued collecting that information".

In August 2019, the company admitted that partners who work to analyze voice snippets from the Assistant leaked the voice snippets of some Dutch users. More than 1,000 private conversations were sent to a Belgian news outlet, some of the messages reportedly revealed sensitive information such as medical conditions and customer addresses.

In December 2018, a bug exposed exposed the data of 52.5 million Google+ users.

Nest Security Bulletin contains details of security vulnerabilities that previously affected Google Nest's devices.

Child Privacy Information

You can check Google Family Link privacy guide for teens & children for details for different countries and age groups.

You can set up "Include voice and audio activity" option for your child. The "Include voice and audio activity" option under the Web & App Activity setting controls whether voice and audio recordings are stored to your Google Account when you use your voice to interact with Assistant. This option is off by default when creating a Google account, and is not required to use the Assistant.

If your child’s "Include voice and audio activity" option under the Web & App Activity setting is checked, when they interact with the Assistant on a signed-in device, a recording of their interaction, plus a few seconds before, may be stored with their account. Google uses this saved voice and audio activity to develop and improve its audio recognition technologies and the Google services that use them, like Google Assistant. If your child uses Google Assistant with Voice Match and you’ve turned on this voice and audio activity setting, Google may also temporarily process a model of your child’s voice from their saved audio to develop and improve Google’s voice technologies and Google services that use them.

Can this product be used offline?

No

User-friendly privacy information?

Yes

Google provides useful privacy information.

Links to privacy information

Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards? information

Yes

Encryption

Yes

Uses encryption in transit and at rest.

Strong password

Yes

Security updates

Yes

Manages vulnerabilities

Yes

Privacy policy

Yes

Does the product use AI? information

Yes

Google publishes academic papers about its AI research (https://ai.google/) and makes several tools available via open source. https://ai.google/tools/

Is this AI untrustworthy?

Can’t Determine

What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?

Google uses natural language processing to understand you and to generate answers to your requests.

Is the company transparent about how the AI works?

Yes

Does the user have control over the AI features?

Yes

*privacy not included

Dive Deeper

  • Google Data Breaches: Full Timeline Through 2022
    Firewall Times
  • Google Agrees to $392 Million Privacy Settlement With 40 States
    The New York Times
  • 7 Google Assistant settings you should disable or adjust
    Digital Trends
  • Google Finally Lets You Turn off Targeted Ads Without Breaking Its Apps
    Gizmodo
  • All the Ways Google Is Coming Under Fire Over Privacy: QuickTake
    Bloomberg
  • Google settles lawsuit with Illinois residents for $100M after photo app privacy concerns
    USA Today
  • Google, Meta fined $71.8M for violating privacy law in South Korea
    TechCrunch
  • France fines Google $57 million for European privacy rule breach
    Reuters
  • Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTube
    The New York Times
  • Google and YouTube Will Pay Record $170 Million for Alleged Violations of Children’s Privacy Law
    Federal Trade Commission
  • Data privacy alert: Spanish DPA fines Google €10 million
    SC Media
  • Texas Sues Google for Collecting Biometric Data Without Consent
    The New York Times
  • Alexa records you more often than you think
    Vox
  • Lawsuit claims Google knew its ‘Incognito mode’ doesn't protect users’ privacy
    The Washington Post

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