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

Joanna Estrada
July 11, 2019

The report claims sensitive information such as addresses were clearly heard in some of the recordings, which allowed them to get in touch with the people involved and make them listen to their own voices. A new report says the company has humans listening to recorded search queries to help improve the accuracy of its assistant. Similar to Alexa, a recent report sheds light on how Google trains its virtual assistant by paying contractors to transcribe audio clips, including those where the personal assistant wasn't even invoked. Users have to opt in to store recordings on the account, and there's a disclosure that the recordings could be used to improve the speech systems. He added that there are no clear guidelines provided regarding such cases.

VRT NWS managed to gain access to more than a thousand audio excerpts recorded by Google Assistant in Belgium and the Netherlands. Recordings made with Google Assistant, the smartphone app, are of telephone quality. These include both purposeful and unconscious recordings that can contain sensitive information. The recordings were provided by a Google contractor who passed along the recordings without Google's permission. There were also recordings from when the assistant was accidentally triggered.

When questioned, Google said that the company uses and transcribes only 0.2% of the recordings and uses it to improve voice recognition technology. The publication also released a video report and says that out of the thousand excerpts they listened to, 153 had been recorded by mistake, meaning that the "Okay Google" command was not issued. "This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant".

Despite the fact that recordings are anonymized, in the recordings it heard, VRT NWS was able to make out names, addresses, and other identifying information that made it very easy to track down the speakers.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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