Google listens after you say 'OK Google' to your desktop Chrome

Google listens after you say 'OK Google' to your desktop Chrome

Summary: Chrome browser users can now say "OK Google" to initiate a search or tell Google to set a reminder.

TOPICS: Google, Browser

If you don't mind recordings of what you say to your PC being sent to Google, you can now let your desktop Chrome browser listen for the command "OK Google", which triggers a hands-free voice search.

Google announced the arrival of the voice trigger in Chrome on Wednesday, bringing its standard voice-command for initiating a search on Android, Google Now, or actions on Glass to the desktop too.

Previously, to activate a voice search in Chrome on the desktop, users would have to click on the microphone icon in the search box.

The new voice command only works on and is available for Chrome users outside the US and in some other languages, so long as they're on that domain — rather than, for example, or The feature is supported on Chrome for Linux, Macs and Windows.

2014-05-23 01.22.18 pm
Image: Google

While talking to a computer might seem more unnatural than giving spoken instructions to a phone — which could be necessary while driving a car, for example — Google thinks the functionality would be useful when your hands are busy or dirty, such as while cooking. 

And besides search, the "OK Google" voice command can be used to ask Google to set a timer or create a reminder — a feature that's tied to Google Now, which is used to deliver reminders on an iOS or Android device.

Google launched voice activation in a beta version of Chrome in February and rolled it out to the public in Chrome version 35, the latest stable version of the browser. It was released earlier this week with fixes for 23 security flaws.

Before enabling the feature, it might be worth reading Google's support notes on what audio it collects from the microphone and how to tell when it's listening.

Once "OK Google" is enabled, the microphone icon will be shaded in, while a white space in the icon indicates it's not listening.

2014-05-23 01.08.47 pm
Image: Google

Google collects audio recordings before, during and after the words "OK Google" are spoken.

"After you say "OK Google" while on a Google search page or the new tab page, the audio recording of what you say will be sent to Google," it notes in a support page.

"Chrome will also send the audio recording of the phrase "OK Google" and a few seconds before that to improve voice recognition. When you turn on 'OK Google', you can choose not to send the sound of "OK Google" and the few seconds before."

If users find this data collection intrusive, they can switch the feature off in Chrome's menu under Settings, Show Advanced Settings, Privacy.

Read more on Chrome


Topics: Google, Browser

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • "OK Google"

    Everyone is silent!
  • isn't this kind if thing

    Isn't this 'always listening' voice activated stuff the exact thing that was causing an uproar on the Xbox One?

    So people are fine with Google of all companies using these features on your smartphone etc (so everywhere), but on a games console located in your lounge room only then its a big privacy issue?
    • Could you turn it off?

      • yes

        Yes in all cases... Which is why I've personally never seen an issue with any of it. But also why I could never understand the uproar around the Xbox One when other devices were already doing the same thing.
        • Depends on who was doing the uproaring

        • Well, MS did patent the spying aspect:

          • interesting concept

            We already pay per episode/series for viewing via a number of services so this would be an extension of that which could really shake up the whole distribution business.

            As long as the licences were on reasonable basis like the fee we pay now is for say up to 5 people and then there are ones for higher numbers you could end up with little 'mini theatres' popping up all over the place in direct competition to current mainstream theatres which would then put downward pressure on the cost of going to see movies, and add a whole new thing of going to see tv shows in an environment similar to the whole movie going experience.

            Also as shown by basically every major IT company, the mere patenting of an idea doesn't mean it will ever actually come into use, more that the potential for use is there and if someone else does implement it they get a royalty for working out how to do it first.
  • I don't know ...

    They seem to have no problem with on the Enterprise.

    If it's good enough for Kirk, Picard & Janeway, it's good enough for me :-)
    • OK Google...

      Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
      • OK GOOGLE--

        My order is for Earl Grey -Iced. Thank you very much.

        Earlene O.
  • Can anyone design a BETTER approach, from a privacy perspective?

    To forestall "I have a knee, therefore I will be a jerk" responses, I suggest that anyone who is about to post a conspiracy-theory tantrum here first try to design a better approach. You need to listen for a specific key phrase; after that key phrase, you need to interpret the words for use. Google has limited it such that:

    - You can turn the feature off

    - If on, they for the key phrase if you're on

    - Processing to detect the key phrase is local, audio not sent to their servers

    - Can improve local processing of key phrase with server analysis, but you can turn that feature off

    - Stop listening a few seconds after the key phrase

    Seems like a pretty reasonable design. Compare it to Siri or Kinect, for example, and I believe you'll find those designs involving considerably less user control, and considerably more information provided to the servers of the respective company involved.

    I suppose the only "improvement" to the approach would be to make ALL processing local - which doesn't appear feasible today (really really good voice recognition is hard); and to default to make it opt-in for the sending the few seconds before the key phrase for recognition improvement analysis. But that's awful minor.
    • I agree...

      Exactly. It is literally IMPOSSIBLE to not "listen" constantly for a keyword / phrase and still achieve a hands-free / click-free response. How exactly is it supposed to know that you have initiated a fully hands-free voice search if it isn't listening for that to happen?

      As it stands, it appears that the processing IS local with respect to listening for the keyword, and only transfers data to Google after the keyword is issued and it picks up the following audio which it presumes is what you wished for it to act on. At that point, presumably you are speaking precisely what you would have typed into the search box, so I don't see how that is any creepier than it "seeing" what you have typed. Unless you are in the habit of using the phrase "OK Google" in normal conversation, nothing will be sent other than what you specifically mean to have sent.

      As far as I can tell, it isn't engaging in a constant real-time transfer of audio data to Google of everything going on in the room. So *Google* isn't continually listening -- only a bit of local code that is doing nothing more than scanning for "OK Google".
  • Google listens after you say 'OK Google' to your desktop Chrome

    Users are going to have to put tape over the microphone now like they do with the webcam.
    • Huh?

      From the article: "If users find this data collection intrusive, they can switch the feature off in Chrome's menu under Settings, Show Advanced Settings, Privacy."

      Judging by this line from the article, you didn't read it at all. You just saw Google in the title and eagerly went to the comment section to post something, ANYTHING, negative.
  • Of course

    They record all your text searches so this is not new or special. BTW don't talk to your phone when your driving. It's just not worth killing yourself or me either.
    • Not just Google...

      ALL search engines have to do that...

      Otherwise they would be unable to process the search query...
  • No big deal really

    I'm all for privacy, but let's be realistic. Google already stores all the TEXT SEARCHES we do, which must number in the billions. Isn't that already pretty sensitive information? What exactly is giong to be going on in the room that we don't want Google to have a recording of? How is a voice saying "clam chowder recipe" any more intimate than the TEXT search "clam chowder recipe" *which is certainly being stored right now and no one cares*
  • Voice

    Its really nice and cool that you can now talk to your computer, commanding it in searching all you want from it. This gives a futuristic innovations for computers, now that apple has SIRI, a voice control feature in iDevices of Apple.