Google’s ‘listening network’ could be vulnerable to US govt, NSA – Falkvinge to RT

Voice recognition technologies are part of the future, but should trigger concern that IT companies are essentially building “listening networks” which can be exploited by the likes of the NSA, Swedish Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge told RT.

Open source developers and privacy campaigners have recently been worried about the automatic installation of the Chrome Hotword Shared Module, which they say is potentially capable of snooping on any conversation near the computer.

READ MORE: Not OK, Google! Covert installations of ‘eavesdropping tool’ raise alarm

“There are a lot of technical nuances to this and it turns out that you actually need to enable some modules for that to happen. But the end result is there: Google is building a listening network that I think is a cause for concern,” Falkvinge told RT.

When downloading Chrome directly from Google, the user is getting a piece of software which is already a black box, capable of doing “pretty much whatever Google wants,” Falkvinge said. But at least with the open source software user expects to have “the computer is doing what it is supposed to be doing.”

“And this is why this was such a huge deal,” Falkvinge said. “Google bypassed this entire auditing process and downloaded a black box onto what was supposedly a secure audited system. On top of that a black box which had as its primary task to enable the microphone, listen to what was said and under certain condition sent that back to Google for analysis.”

Voice search systems are a perfectly natural development with screens becoming smaller and keyboards going away, Falkvinge admits. “It is absolutely, by every single means a useful feature,” he says.

“But it is also important to realize that this means a technical capability to listen to every desktop. It means technical capability to not just listen to every desktop computer but also to do so at the identified individual level,” he explained. “They would know that this microphone belonged to Rick Falkvinge.”

What is even more important to realize is that “Google might not be a bad guy here,” Falkvinge said.

“The USA has overtaken itself the right to gag the good guys and take over their capabilities. And I think that is the cause for concern, with a listening network like this. I don't believe that Google is listening to every room. I do not believe they have the slightest bad intent, but there are other shady people in the background that might use this for their own purposes.

“Which is why I advocate that webcams need a physical hard shield before the lense now, and microphones need a hard switch that severs the electrical connections,” Falkvinge concluded. “Software switches are no longer good enough.”