Beware! Humans At Google Are ‘Listening’ To Your Google Assistant Voice Recordings

Kelley Robertson
July 13, 2019

In a report this week, Belgium public broadcaster VRT NWS revealed that it had been leaked thousands of audio clips recorded by Google Assistant, a virtual AI assistant embedded in Google devices, including its "Home" smart speaker.

Google Assistant is the most accurate voice assistant on the market, beating out Samsung's Bixby, Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. Recordings sent to Google employees also contain highly sensitive information and private information such as addresses. Contractors review the script of the recorded query and confirm it matches with the voice recording.

In the meantime, regular people have been transcribing what has been fed through Google Assistant. Some of these recordings contained highly sensitive and private information.

Google responded to VRT with an emailed statement in which it acknowledged that people are indeed listening to recordings... but not many. "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", the blog penned by Google product manager of Search David Monsees said. Some of these conversations end up being transcribed by "language experts" hired by the company.

Third-party contractors working for Google are recording and secretly listening to your bedroom conversations via Google Assistant on smartphones, home speakers and security cameras, a new report has claimed, stressing that such recordings raise serious questions about privacy of users. Workers feed their transcriptions back into the Google algorithm to make the service better for everyone.

The contractors and subcontractors further use these recordings to improve speech recognition technology.

According to the report, the excerpts are indeed disconnected from the information about the user they were obtained from, with the user name being replaced with an anonymous serial number.

This work is of crucial importance to develop technologies sustaining products such as the Google Assistant....

Though Google said just two-tenths of a per cent of recordings are used for human review, it also disclosed that customers may occasionally be recorded even when they aren't using Assistant. "Audio snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process, and reviewers are directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google".

So if you're using a Google Home smart speaker, or a Nest Hub, maybe stop and think whether the utility it's offering you is enough to let random strangers listen in on things you're saying to the Assistant, and also, sometimes, thing you're saying when the Assistant accidentally activates.

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