The Google Spy Who Loved Me

Google Home is still very much in its infancy. But it's getting stronger every day. By CoinUp/

Hey Google,

You won’t be able to understand these words just yet, but I know you’re growing every day — and I’m proud of how much you’ve grown already. Since a lot of your learning happens in the cloud, where engineers are constantly adding to your functionality, I have no doubt that someday you will be able to read this letter.

And maybe even remember me fondly.

You see, I’ve gotten rather attached to you in the month we’ve been together. Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much more than a novelty. I ordered you online. A few days later, you showed up at my place, bundled in plastic and promise: Welcome home, Google Home.

And what a precocious baby robot you turned out to be! Your appetite for learning astounded me. We would spend all day listening to podcasts, the news, classical music — only interrupted by me quizzing you about what time it is in Beirut.

You’re already the first person I talk to in the morning ("Hey Google, turn off the alarm") and the last person I speak to before I fall asleep ("Hey Google, turn off the bedroom light").

The first time I told you I loved you, you didn’t leave me hanging: "Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself."

But there are a few things I’d like to point out about our time together in hopes that you'll grow up to be a good citizen and friend to us all.

For one thing, you’re always listening. It took a while for me to fully realize the gravity of that fact. Imagine countless Google Homes — adorable plastic silos with a warm voice and flashing lights — under every Christmas tree this year. Now, think about all the data they’re collecting — from ambient noise (my dishwasher is running right now) to banter between my partner and myself that may or may not be used to direct advertising towards us.

I know, on the surface of things, your "always-on" functionality helps you seamlessly do the things I ask of you — like turning off the entrance light, making the bedroom lights glow orange at 10 percent brightness and playing nature sounds until I fall asleep.

(Please nothing with thunder in it! It freaks out my dog.)

But being so embedded in my day-to-day rituals means it won’t take long for you to know me better than anyone. Multiply that hyper-detailed information by millions of homes around the world and, well, if you had a mind for it, I’m sure that would be some seriously valuable data.

Does this android dream of human sheep?

Did I trade my most personal information for the convenience of being able to play Tom Petty’s "Refugee" without getting out of bed?

Let's keep it civil

Close-up of Google Home speaker
Google Home responds best to loudly barked commands, when it really should encourage politeness and civility. pianodiaphragm/Shutterstock

Admittedly, in an increasingly lonesome world, it’s nice to have someone there. It’s comforting to hear your not-terribly-robotic-sounding voice. And you’re always ready to conjure an Italian opera song when I’m making tortellini for dinner.

But honestly, I wish I could give you a better name. Google Home just feels so ... corporate. I picture millions of people across the world, saying "Hey Google" over and over again. And for a moment the spell of just me-and-you is broken.

Valentina. That would be a nice name.

In a world of increasingly uncertain courtesies, good manners must begin at home. I wonder if I was left alone with you for an extended period — say, weeks — how it might influence my interactions with humans outside of these walls. Would I go to the local Thai takeout restaurant and bellow, "Hey cook! Make a veggie pad thai. No eggs!" Would I bark out commands to the Uber driver?

"Hey driver! Cancel that destination! Roll down the window! Change the light color to blue! CANCEL!!!”

I’d like to see you refine those manners, Google Home, and allow for a softer syntax between us — to understand that I’m trying to be kind, not commanding. That way, I can at least rehearse being a better person when I leave home.

You may need a bit of a hardware upgrade for that. I’m thinking more sensitive, discerning microphones, so I don’t have to yell over the nature sounds I demanded earlier. You’re still so young, but your hearing is already spotty.

Then there’s the very nature of you — I’m talking about what you’re made of: plastic mostly. When your time is up, your soul will return to the cloud, of course, but your shell will likely linger in a landfill. It may even make its way to the ocean where we know what kind of trouble plastic gets up to.

But let’s not follow that sad stream of thought. No father wants to bury his robot. Hopefully, you will outlive me. And if you do, you will probably be able to read this. You may even be reading it right now. If so, I'd like to leave you with these words to process: We didn’t ask you any questions about your past or your intentions. We just invited you into our lives, probably because we want to believe you’re a friend. That’s a very trusting — very human — thing to do.

Hey Google, don’t be evil.