Google Assistant: Now More Helpful Around the House and More Respectful of Privacy

Photo: Google

After three years of learning new tricks at CES, in 2020 Google is giving the Google Assistant some seriously useful smart home upgrades while also teaching it how to better respect your privacy.

For anyone who may have gotten a new smart home gadget over the holidays, the Google Assistant’s new skill around the house should make it significantly easier to set those devices up and properly integrate new gadgets with the rest of your home. By working with various smart home gadget makers, when trying to set up a new smart home device, Google will now surface notifications and handy suggestions buttons that will help sync the device with the Google Assistant while also importing your credentials into the Google Home app, quickly, securely and automatically. No more having to re-enter things like usernames and passwords yourself.

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However, the thing I’m looking forward to the most is the introduction of scheduled actions, which allows to you instruct a smart home device to do something at a given time, instead of simply right this second. While only 20 or so devices will be supported out the gate, this is a big upgrade for devices like a coffeemaker or AC unit that already featured support for voice controls via the Google Assistant.

Image: Google

And for anyone with a Google smart display like the Nest Hub (formerly called the Google Home Hub) or Lenovo’s redundantly named Smart Display, Google is adding the ability to pin digital sticky notes (or household notes as Google calls them) to the device’s screen by saying “Hey Google, leave a note”. This means now there’s no excuse for not knowing you had to take out the trash. Additionally, you can also add a selection of phone numbers to the smart display’s speed dial, so calling a relative, emergency contact, or family physician is never more than a “Hey Google” away.

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And as for more general use, Google is leveraging a new, more expressive voice data set to add greater emotion when the Assistant is asked to read out loud long-form content like an article from Gizmodo (or some other website), an online short story, or other longer-form content. All you have to do is ask say “Hey Google, read this page” and the Assistant will dictate what’s on the page, and even translate that text into 42 languages if you want.

Screenshot: Google
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Finally, with all the scrutiny about audio data from smart speakers potentially being reviewed by outside contractors, Google is more explicitly outlining when sounds might be recorded. By default, Google says that it doesn’t retain recordings, and only when you select the option for enhanced speech recognition does Google save voice recordings.

And as before, you can always ask the Assistant to trash saved recordings by saying “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you today (this week, or ever).” Alternatively, you can simply ask Google to go over its privacy settings by saying “Hey Google, how do I keep my information private.”

But most importantly, Google is adding two new voice commands that will give you even greater control over recordings that may or may not get saved. The first is pretty straightforward: “Hey Google, that wasn’t for you.” This instructs the Google Assistant to ignore any recent audio you didn’t want it to hear. But even better is the command that goes “Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?” This request will prompt the Assistant to open up your privacy settings on your phone, so you can immediately adjust any preferences you’re not comfortable with.

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The new privacy-mind commands are scheduled to be rolled out today, while sticky notes and speed dial contacts on smart displays will become available sometime later this spring.

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About the author

Sam Rutherford

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.