Updated: February 15, 2021
Something rather weird happened to me a few days ago. I was doing a boomer thing - a real phone call on my Motorola One Zoom smartphone, and I decided to free my hands, so I hooked up my headphones via the audio jack. All good, but once the call ended, I noticed a curious little notification on the device. It read: Talk to your Assistant on headphones. Say what.
This wouldn't really be a problem - except - I had configured the Google Assistant to OFF. It was disabled, it shouldn't have prompted. If you've read my Android privacy guide, you know that my first order of the day is turning off pretty much 90% of all the different noisy, cloudy, onliney things. And yet, there it was. Angry, I set about figuring this out. The end result is this guide, because it has a lot of useful detail. Follow me.
In yer face approach doth not work
I do not know when or how or why Google or whoever decided this would be a good idea, but for some reason, my headphones were automatically associated with the Assistant. Since I had zero desire or inclination to use something like this, I immediately went into the Settings and noticed that the layout had changed (again), and there was a new Assistant section titled Assistant devices.
This is utter, utter nonsense for many reasons. One, I've not used the Assistant once since I bought the phone. Two, I've turned the Assistant off on this phone. And yet, for some reason, THIS. Then, there's the shopping cart, and the nudge to install/use the Home App. Classic aggressive sales. Hello, 1952!
I decided to remove the headphones from this list - the alarming feeling that the Assistant may be running notwithstanding. I noticed the device was toggled to ON - contrary to my explicit choice not to use this functionality. Worse, every time I clicked on the Wired headphones to check the status, the toggle would turn back on. I was only able to permanently disable this option by connecting the headphones, and only then turning the toggle off. Infuriating.
The Third Law of Newtonian Physics. You push, I shove back. So I went through all the different settings. Now, here's the irony. Until this point, the Assistant was turned off, but it was still selected as the default Assist app. Following the headphones incident, I changed the Assist app to none. I toggled a few extra options, and then, I also disabled the Google app, which also got rid of the Google search box from my Home screen. I didn't mind it, and it didn't bother me, but after this, gone. Successful marketing right there.
In a way, I should probably thank whoever thought this Assistant nudge would be a wise thing. Because now, I've improved my privacy stance on the phone a tad more, as I've turned off a few more settings that previously didn't bother me, and/or toward which I had a neutral perhaps even tolerant stance.
Since, there have been no headphone prompts, and even on the locked homescreen, the Assistant icon in the bottom left corner has turned into a simple phone icon. Excellent. If you encountered a similar issue, hopefully this guide will help you get back to quiet, peaceful productivity.
Now, all this said, I'm fully aware that the hunt for privacy will get harder as time goes by. Not that you won't be able to do what you need, it will probably take extra clicks and convoluted menus and options to get sorted. For instance, looking at my range of Android experiences from Moto G6 to Nokia 5.3, things have become both more transparent and difficult, in parallel. About two years ago, I recall seeing a dedicated Assistant tab in my account, you went to the bottom, you selected your phone, and then you could disable the AI stuff. About a year ago, there was that plus a new, separate Search & Assistant section under the Settings. Now, you also get to choose - or not - the default Assist app, and you can also toggle on/off different features, like say the dedicated button on some phones and such. Meh.
Finally, none of this would be a problem whatsoever if the operating system respected my initial choice not to use the Assistant app to begin with. Simple. Then, there's no reason to associate anything with anything, no prompts, no nudges. Well, there you go. A lesson in how to lose friends and alienate customers.