People are listening to your Google Assistant queries — Surprise

Saturday, 13 Jul, 2019

Recordings made with Google Assistant, the smartphone app, are of telephone quality. Google's Home speakers have been caught sending audio clips of their users back to Google to improve its speech recognition software.

People in Belgium and the Netherlands were taken by surprise when they heard themselves or a close relation in the recordings.

Filed in a federal court in Seattle, the lawsuit alleges Amazon of saving "voice prints" of millions of children by unlawfully recording their conversations around Alexa-enabled smart devices, reports Vox news.

With the help of a whistleblower, VRT listened to some of the clips.

The news comes from Belgian news service VRT NWS, which reports on Google's use of subcontractors to analyze Assistant audio samples.

Google outsources the review of recorded interactions with its virtual assistant to partners, who try to make out different languages and accents to help the assistant better deal with speech commands.

The company acknowledged earlier this year that its reviewers listen to anonymous recordings in response to a Bloomberg report revealing that Amazon's Alexa also uses contractors to listen to recordings. Even though Google disconnects excerpts from the user's information and deletes the user name, it is still possible to recover the identity of the user simply by listening to the except carefully.

If you think you're safe from prying ears since you didn't say any trigger word for your Google Assistant, time and time again we're seeing evidence that these tech giants are not very mindful of our privacy and maybe even our security. VRT News listened to recordings of Belgian and Dutch users but there are recordings from all over the world.

The practice, and the fact that Google's devices sometimes mistakenly record audio, raises plenty of privacy concerns. The recordings were provided by a Google contractor who passed along the recordings without Google's permission. And there's more proof of that every day.

But we don't need to go to Big Data science to identify the people in these recordings. Google also claims it encrypts all its recordings. They are not interested in what you are saying, but the way you are saying it. Google's computer system consists of smart, self-learning algorithms. Google: Yes, we're listening.

Google responded to the VRT story in a blog post today.

Google says no user account information is associated with the recordings, and reviewers are instructed not to transcribe background conversations. And those clips have been stripped of personally identifiable information (PII) as well, Google said.

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

Around one in 5,000 recordings are sent to a language expert, it said.