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Google Admits Workers Are Listening to Google Assistant Recordings

Dominique Adams

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Google Smart Speaker

Google says it only allows “language experts” from around the world to study a small number of anonymous “audio snippets”.  

Google has acknowledged that its workers are permitted to access and listen to people’s private conversations, which are recorded through its artificial intelligence (AI) system, Google Assistant.

Google Assistant is used in the tech giant’s Google Home smart speakers and Android smartphones. Activated by a wake-up word or phrase like “Ok, Google” the system begins to automatically record people’s conversations.

The feature can be turned off, however, this results in the assistant being unable to offer as personalised a service.

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A spokesman for Google said: “We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant.”

“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.”

“We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

Belgian public broadcaster VRT, who obtained the audio recordings, found that the clips contained identifiable personal information, including one person’s address.

Recordings also included a family discussing their grandchild by name and another user discussing their love life. Of more than 1,000 snippets VRT reviewed, 153 were found to have been captured by mistake.

It has yet to be determined if these clips comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in May 2018 – GDPR restricts the volume of data businesses operating in the EU can hold on consumers.

This is not the first time Google’s smart speaker technology has been under the spotlight. In 2017, the tech firm confirmed that a bug in its Home Mini speaker had caused the device to record users even when it was not activated by the wake-up word.

Similarly, following a Bloomberg report, Amazon has also confirmed it uses contractors to review recordings made of its customers using its Alexa voice technology.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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