Google needs to break up its all-or-nothing approach to permissions

Want to play a YouTube clip on a Google Home Hub? You better have handed over your Chrome web history.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

For a company that is making the right sort of moves around mobile permissions, even if years after Apple showed it how, Google has a massive blind spot on its assistant and assistant-promoting products like the Home Hub.

At its heart, Google wants to get as much data as it possibly can from its users, and it clearly thinks that data will be handed over for the convenience of recommended content and reminders.

It's nice to be told the road to work is clogged, or you need to leave right now to make that 2pm appointment -- but to tell Google every search term I enter, or every web page I visit in Chrome whether on my mobile or using a desktop in return for such information is too much to ask.

As it currently stands, it is all or nothing with Google; you cannot dip in or dip out of the deal. Only want assistant updates on your calendar? Forget it.

This scenario enters the realm of full-on head scratching when it comes to the Google's smart assistant with a screen, the Home Hub, a device that Google wants to be at the centre of your smart home.

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Unless you hand Google the web and app history permissions it desires, good luck getting any music out of this thing, because it hard blocks YouTube and Google Play Music until you do.

Right now, you could be using any computer or smartphone in the world, type in YouTube's URL, and play pretty much any video you like, but there is no such luck on the Home Hub.

The irony really kicks in when within Google's app to control the Home Hub, it will pick up paid YouTube and Google Play accounts; but, even so, Google's own hardware prevents the use of services that are paid for.

See: Best Google Home Hub alternatives you can buy right now

"In order to provide the full Assistant experience, Google Assistant requires certain levels of permission," a Google spokesperson told ZDNet.

"Since Google Home Hub uses the Google Assistant to interface with YouTube, web and app activity is a required permission to enable voice actions."

At this point, it needs to be noted that the Home Hub is a voice-first device, and without it, the only way to play YouTube or Play Music is via casting to the device, which makes the Hub essentially a Chromecast with a screen and microphone.

It is an extraordinary state of affairs that a Home Hub buyer could fork out AU$200 for a device that refuses to work in few of the advertised ways because Google is not allowed to openly track them.

Also read: Google Home Hub first impressions: A weekend of entertainment

There seems to be little technical reason why Home Hub couldn't work with individual access to Google calendar, Gmail, YouTube, and other Google properties without the demand to slurp up everything, but data addiction is a helluva drug.

The option to gracefully degrade services for those who choose to opt out of Google's data collection seems a bridge too far for the search giant -- business is business, and the company has made its decision.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

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