Google IS listening: Binary blob banished from Chromium build

Simply no place for closed-source components, sorry

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New Chromium builds will no longer download/install the Hotword Shared Module and will automatically remove the module on startup if it was previously installed.

A closed-source and binary-only kernel module caused a fair fuss when it was found inveigling its way into the very much open-source Chromium.

Thanking the community for their attention and input on the issue, one of the project developers told the issues ticket thread that "as of the newly-landed r335874, Chromium builds, by default, will not download this module at all."

The binary blob managed to upset the Debian community in two ways. Firstly, its very existence was a violation of the Debian Social Contract, which prohibits distributing software without the accompanying source code.

"Chromium is open source and it's as important to us, as is it is to you, that it doesn't ship with closed-source components, lazily or not," the developer stated.

Additionally offensive was the nature of the proprietary code: Google's eavesdropping Hotword extension. This provoked a blog post from F-Secure's Sean Sullivan, who wrote: "That's the thing about voice 'activated' devices. They're always listening, always recording (to a buffer). The question is: how much gets uploaded to the voice-recognition service?"

An additional developer update regarding Hotword explains that "Builds of Google Chrome will still download this module by default. It will not be activated unless the user explicitly flips a preference to do so."

The developer post explains that, if the module is enabled, "it uses only the local machine (and does not send any data to a server) to recognise the phrase 'OK Google'."

However, "if this phrase is recognized and voice search is activated, then subsequent voice input for that specific search would be sent to Google to be recognised". ®


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