Google Pixel Buds
Review date: Nov. 9, 2022
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.
Can it snoop on me?
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Name, email, phone number
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
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
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
Google provides useful privacy information.
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
Uses encryption in transit and at rest.
Google has a Security Rewards program.
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?
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?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
Google Data Breaches: Full Timeline Through 2022Firewall Times
Google Agrees to $392 Million Privacy Settlement With 40 StatesThe New York Times
7 Google Assistant settings you should disable or adjustDigital Trends
Google Finally Lets You Turn off Targeted Ads Without Breaking Its AppsGizmodo
All the Ways Google Is Coming Under Fire Over Privacy: QuickTakeBloomberg
Google settles lawsuit with Illinois residents for $100M after photo app privacy concernsUSA Today
Google, Meta fined $71.8M for violating privacy law in South KoreaTechCrunch
France fines Google $57 million for European privacy rule breachReuters
Google Is Fined $170 Million for Violating Children’s Privacy on YouTubeThe New York Times
Google and YouTube Will Pay Record $170 Million for Alleged Violations of Children’s Privacy LawFederal Trade Commission
Data privacy alert: Spanish DPA fines Google €10 millionSC Media
Texas Sues Google for Collecting Biometric Data Without ConsentThe New York Times
Alexa records you more often than you thinkVox
Lawsuit claims Google knew its ‘Incognito mode’ doesn't protect users’ privacyThe Washington Post
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