In a move to differentiate its Google Home voice-activated assistant from competitors like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Microsoft’s Clippy (yes, we know it’s Cortana, but we prefer Clippy), Google has tweaked its Google Home assistant to allow for multiple users, each of whom can supposedly be uniquely identified by their voice.
This is not a shock to folks who noticed that a recent update to the Home app on Android included a mention of the ability to have multiple accounts, but today the company confirmed the news and showed how you go about setting up your specific voice recognition.
In terms of setup, it’s relatively simple, if the new feature has been rolled out to your Home app, when you launch it you’ll be asked to repeat the phrase “Ok, Google” three times. So when you later talk to your Google Home hub it should be able to distinguish your voice — and therefore any apps, contacts, or preferences you have linked to your account — from others who also use that Home hub.
Google gives the example of a family where two busy parents can each ask the same Home device what their schedule is like for the day, without having to identify themselves, switch accounts, or press any buttons.
While we were able to set up user-specific voice recognition on an Android device, the Consumerist HQ is lacking in a Google Home hub so we don’t yet know how well the multi-user experience is playing out. We know some families with siblings who have remarkably similar voices, so we’re definitely curious to see how it works in those homes — or if recordings or particularly good impersonations will suffice in tricking Google Home into coughing up someone else’s info.
Each Home hub will be able to recognize up to six different unique voices, so if you have a really large family, little Timmy is out of luck. Sorry kid; send your tears to Google.
The ability to recognize individual users doesn’t lock out others from being able to access your Home hub. Guests — and even Burger King ads — will still be able to trigger actions like web searches without having their voices registered on that particular device.
While this may be a convenience for households with multiple people who feel compelled to shout requests to disembodied virtual assistants, it also ramps up the privacy concerns. Previously, Google would know what sort of searches, requests, and directions you gave to Home, but it never knew if it was specifically you or just anyone within microphone range who wanted to hear a summary of the Wikipedia entry on Botswana. Now it knows with some certainty that it was you — or your husband, or your cousin Ralph — who made that request.
Individual voice-recognition seems like the logical next step for Amazon’s Alexa, but not necessarily for Apple and Siri. The Apple voice assistant is mostly targeted at mobile users — iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches — where there is minimal use in having multiple people shouting orders into the same microphone.