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Should You Open Up Your Home to Google?

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The message at this year's Google I/O developers conference came through loud and clear, as a steady stream of Google executives took to the stage during today's keynote to unveil what the search giant is working on: Google wants to be involved in every aspect of your life.

When you chat with friends, Google wants you to use its upcoming Allo app, tapping into Google's search engine to summon up images, perform searches and make dinner reservations. When you want more personal one-on-one time with friends and family, Google offers up the Duo video-chat app. And for day-to-day activity around the home, the Google Home speaker will be able to do everything from playing back your music to controlling your lights to looking up things for you — all driven by just your voice.

At the heart of all of these apps is Google Assistant, a more conversational version of Google Now that's better able to use context to narrow down exactly what you're looking. Google Assistant is built directly into Allo, where you can even have a direct chat with the assistant about sports scores and upcoming events. It also powers many capabilities in Google Home, as you can use it to pull up schedules, send texts and conduct the kind of searches that used to require you to go diving for your phone.

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Google's Allo incorporates Google Assistant for context-sensitive searches.

Google's Allo incorporates Google Assistant for context-sensitive searches.

That's a lot of promise for these products when they arrive later this year. Allo and Duo are slated for a summer release on both Android and iOs, while Google Home will follow in the fall. The convenience of a voice-powered assistant that not only understands what you're saying but can field follow-up questions to drill down to find exactly what you're looking for — whether it's a movie to watch that night or a highlight from last night's basketball playoff — figures to make life a lot more convenient.

But the price of that convenience is to intertwine Google deeper into your daily life. It's one thing to use Google Home to dim your lights or conjure up a playlist; it's quite another to clue Google's assistant into every aspect of your life, from where you're going to what you're planning on doing.

Google offered some assurances during the I/O keynote that it recognizes those privacy concerns. Allo, for example, offers end-to-end encryption and the app's Incognito mode lets you send private messages and set a deletion time for chats.

On the other hand, other features touted during the I/O keynote could prove to be a lot thornier. The Knock-Knock feature in Duo, for example, is designed to make video calling less intrusive by giving you a live video look at who's pinging you. But it doesn't take much imagination to see how that feature could be used inappropriately to either sexually harass or threaten someone on the other end of the line. That's a concern Google's going to have to address before Duo makes its debut.

Google Home (Credit: Google)

(Image credit: Google Home (Credit: Google))

Google's uniquely positioned to roll out products like Allo and Smart Home because of its expertise in search and its success at building out a knowledge graph that not only understands people, places and things but also how they relate to each other in the real world. Throw up a picture of a plate of linguini and clams, for example, and Google's search tools not only recognize the clams but also the specific type of pasta.

"Progress in all of these areas is accelerating thanks to profound advances in machine learning and AI," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. "And I believe we are at a seminal moment."

If Google's well-positioned to use its search tools to better integrate itself in our daily lives, it's also well motivated to push out these kinds of products. Amazon enjoys a sizable lead over Google with its Alexa-powered Echo speaker that already offers many of the features that Google Home promises, plus support from third-party developers that allows you to do things like summon a ride from Uber or order a pizza using Amazon's device. (A major reason why Google's taking the wraps off Google Home now is to get developers started on adding support in time for its fall release.)

Allo will wade into a competitive market for messaging apps already dominated by Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and SnapChat, while Duo faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple's FaceTime and Microsoft's Skype.

Google's ability to take on those more-established rivals will depend entirely on how well it uses its search expertise to differentiate its products — and just how comfortable the rest of us are letting Google become a bigger part of our day-to-day lives.