11 June 2019
Google has admitted that it lets people listen in to what the users speak to the Google Assistant. To make it sound more appropriate, Google has even shared a blog post in which it states that the company partners with language experts around the world who understand specific language and help it in transcribing it. Well, Google does have a reason to save itself against the eavesdropping accusation, but still, this doesn’t grant the company the right to listen to even the most confidential and sensitive information of the users.
As revealed by a report from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, contractors are paid to transcribe audio clips collected by Google’s AI assistant and thus they have access to so much sensitive information about the users, including the names, addresses, and details about their personal lives. The broadcaster itself claims that it was able to listen to more than a thousand recordings. It even did a surprising move by finding people according to their recorded audio.
VRT NWS was able to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant. "In these recordings, we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings."
A contractor told the publication that he transcribes around 1,000 audio clips from Google Assistant every week.
Google came up to clarify why it collects and passes these records to its partners,
Language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages. This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology and is necessary to create products like the Google Assistant.
Google explains this is the part of their development of speech technology for more languages. And, it invests in several significant resources to ensure that its speech technology works for a wide variety of languages, accents, and dialects. This helps Google Assistant to understand your request, whether you’re speaking any language.
Google in the blog post also talks about the incident where its one of the language reviewers violated its data security policies and leaked 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.
Google clarifies that it applies a wide range of safeguards to protect user privacy throughout the entire review process. Language experts only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets.
While it makes sense that Google does it so as to improve the Google Assistant, listening to some private conversation even when the hotword “Hey Google” isn’t uttered is not just acceptable. VRTNews in its investigation even found out some voices which were recorded when users didn’t start “Hey Google” hotword. For instance, intimate moments, private business or confidential calls get also recorded.