As a part of 9to5Google’s APK Insights report for the latest version of the Google app for Android, they discovered an interesting string of code regarding something called ‘Guacamole’. Apparently, this is meant to help you ‘quickly get things done’ with a toggle in Assistant settings. How exactly this occurs may upset some, and may seem completely normal to others. In order to perform highly specific voice commands – particularly answering calls or interacting with alarms and timers. Guacamole strips away the need to use the hotword ‘Hey Google’ in order to execute on these.
“Quickly get things done with Guacamole.”
“This describes what the Guacamole toggle actually toggles.”
Skip saying “Hey Google” for help with quick tasks.9to5Google APK Insights
Google came out and told The Verge “We’re constantly experimenting with new ways to improve the overall experience with Google Assistant. We have no additional details to share at this time.” in response to their request for information regarding Guacamole. We should keep in mind that Google is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for running many experiments simultaneously – many of which never see the light of day. The APK Insights that 9to5Google perform also come with a disclaimer regarding this, so let’s not get too excited or up in arms about the possibilities yet.
Now, it’s important to understand that Assistant-enabled smart displays like the Nest Hub can already be operated in some ways without hotword activation. Saying ‘Stop’ or ‘Snooze’ will halt an alarm that goes off, and saying ‘Answer’ or ‘Decline’ will handle calls. If this feature makes its way to Android and doesn’t get nixed in development, it could have some pretty serious implications for Google’s vision for the future of smart device interaction. Truth be told, the fact that it already exists on Nest Hubs creates serious implications – not only or specifically for privacy and security, but rather for the user’s perception of it.
Yes, Google Assistant does listen actively to audio around your home, but if that audio does not include the hotword “Hey Google” before it, it’s destroyed on the device and is never sent to Google. Additionally, the human review process for audio recordings is opt-in, not opt-out. See the video below for more information. Because I’ve been known to be quite the futurist, I do feel as though Assistant quick actions being added to Android will further normalize the idea of conversing with Google’s helper without specific triggers. This does create the opportunity for the technology to be abused, which is concerning, but it also means that your phone and other devices in your life could very well become as casual as Tony Stark’s assistant, Jarvis, in Iron Man – once more quick actions are added, that is.
I’m not going to say we should throw out our concerns for privacy in order to gain more conveniences, but I also don’t believe that we should throw out the positive impact Assistant has on our society and amplify the negative potential side effects of such a future. As I always say, we should get involved with the checks and balances, and hold companies like Google accountable, but that doesn’t mean fearmongering or being averse to innovation.
Lastly, I want to point out that with many Chromebooks being upgraded to Android 11, and Google already previously stating that it has big plans for how it will make Assistant on Chromebooks more useful and native, I would like to think that the inclusion of Guacamole in Android is, in some part, a step toward this vision. While there is zero evidence of this right now, it makes sense that allowing more devices – including Chromebooks which are likely to inherit the feature in time – to interact with Assistant without a hotword could be the catalyst for Google to make tapping into its power more natural and seamless across all of the devices that matter to you.