Should the Android microphone on / off release features on the device such as Assistant Voice Writing [Poll]

For the privacy conscious, camera and microphone access introduced by Google with Android 12 can provide peace of mind and is generally more convenient than disabling these permissions directly for an app. The design is quite strict and can be excessive, and there are benefits to future versions of Android that introduce more granularity.

When the Android microphone access switch is set to “Blocked”, the sensor is disabled and no sound can be recorded unless you set it to “Available”. It’s the software equivalent of the physical microphone on / off button found on Nest Smart Displays and speakers, and reflects how people at least – apart from the validity – are always worried that their phones are listening to them.

By using the microphone and camera switches since the launch of Android 12, I have found that they live up to their intended goal of providing peace of mind. That said, they disrupt the most useful advances of modern smartphones: voice processing on the device.

First of all, when the microphone is off, Assistant Voice Input does not work, of course, as there is nothing for your Pixel to pick up. Even as someone who considers themselves overly privacy conscious, I think it is quite inconvenient and not the right trade-off.

The Assistant voice typing in Gboard, introduced with the Pixel 6, works exclusively on the device. In the words of the company, “the text you say stays on your device and is not sent to Google’s servers.” As an individual who is more privacy conscious than not, I’m actually fine with that class of listening – where the recording remains local – and there’s no chance it will ever get away from the device.

The same can be said about Pixel’s Now Playing feature, which ambiently identifies which songs are on in the background. What is collected is compared to a local song database, and it only goes to the cloud if you manually activate a search.

A more difficult area where exceptions could also apply is Google Assistant. If enabled, your phone will always listen for the command word, but will not send anything to the cloud until “Hey Google” is heard. Today, the microphone switch completely disables Hey Google detection.

The new Google Assistant on Pixel is so fast because it processes commands locally and then makes a network request as needed. An advantage of NGA is that it can work offline for device commands such as – the eternally useful – turn on the flashlight or increase the volume. Should the new assistant be allowed to work even when microphone access is blocked if the resulting command is isolated to control a hardware function on your device?

Features that use processing on the device should be excluded from microphone switching. If it undermines the privacy and / or trust angle of the microphone connector too much, another way would be to let end users explicitly exclude such features instead of making it the new standard behavior. What do you think:

FTC: We use revenue-earning auto affiliate links. More.

Check out 9to5Google on YouTube for more news: