Google IS listening: Binary blob banished from Chromium build

Simply no place for closed-source components, sorry


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". ®


Other stories you might like

  • Minimal, systemd-free Alpine Linux releases version 3.16
    A widespread distro that many of its users don't even know they have

    Version 3.16.0 of Alpine Linux is out – one of the most significant of the many lightweight distros.

    Version 3.16.0 is worth a look, especially if you want to broaden your skills.

    Alpine is interesting because it's not just another me-too distro. It bucks a lot of the trends in modern Linux, and while it's not the easiest to set up, it's a great deal easier to get it working than it was a few releases ago.

    Continue reading
  • Verizon: Ransomware sees biggest jump in five years
    We're only here for DBIRs

    The cybersecurity landscape continues to expand and evolve rapidly, fueled in large part by the cat-and-mouse game between miscreants trying to get into corporate IT environments and those hired by enterprises and security vendors to keep them out.

    Despite all that, Verizon's annual security breach report is again showing that there are constants in the field, including that ransomware continues to be a fast-growing threat and that the "human element" still plays a central role in most security breaches, whether it's through social engineering, bad decisions, or similar.

    According to the US carrier's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) released this week [PDF], ransomware accounted for 25 percent of the observed security incidents that occurred between November 1, 2020, and October 31, 2021, and was present in 70 percent of all malware infections. Ransomware outbreaks increased 13 percent year-over-year, a larger increase than the previous five years combined.

    Continue reading
  • Slack-for-engineers Mattermost on open source and data sovereignty
    Control and access are becoming a hot button for orgs

    Interview "It's our data, it's our intellectual property. Being able to migrate it out those systems is near impossible... It was a real frustration for us."

    These were the words of communication and collaboration platform Mattermost's founder and CTO, Corey Hulen, speaking to The Register about open source, sovereignty and audio bridges.

    "Some of the history of Mattermost is exactly that problem," says Hulen of the issue of closed source software. "We were using proprietary tools – we were not a collaboration platform before, we were a games company before – [and] we were extremely frustrated because we couldn't get our intellectual property out of those systems..."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022