Google uses humans to review Google Assistant queries, report says

Google Assistant Recordings Being Secretly Listened to by Contractors Report

Google Assistant Recordings Being Secretly Listened to by Contractors Report

A contractor provided Belgium-based VRT NWS with more than a thousand recordings of people using Google Home and the Google Assistant app to answer questions and conduct searches, the news outlet reported Thursday.

It shouldn't be news to anyone that Google stores your recordings; this is in Google's terms and conditions, and it's how the voice assistant improves.

A bunch of Belgian investigative journalists have discovered that Google workers really are listening in on people who use its voice-activated Google Assistant product. Google also said it will try to prevent future leaks of its users' voice recordings. Given that VRT NWS was able to confront people with their own recordings, the reality would appear to be quite different.

Google Home is supposed to record only when users say the "OK Google" or "Hey Google" trigger phrases.

While the tool is free for anyone to help Google get better at describing images and facial expressions, audio recordings are exclusively accessible to Google subcontractors who can log in to a secure part of the tool where a list of audio excerpts awaits their analysis.

Google insisted to VRT that all was well because it worked with "language experts worldwide" to transcribe hard-to-understand snippets of recorded conversations. Some of these recordings contained highly sensitive and private information.

We asked Google today if its internal employees also listen to the recordings.

Google responded to the report admitting that this is how language experts help to improve its speech technology. This work is crucial for the development of technology that makes products such as the Google Assistant possible. The what of this story is just as interesting as the how, though, as VRT NWS says that employees from one of Google's subcontractors allowed them to listen to more than 1,000 clips recorded by Google Assistant provided for the contractors to transcribe. We are actively investigating this and when we find a breach of our policy, we will take action quickly, up to and including the termination of our agreement with the partner. Recordings made with Google Assistant, the smartphone app, are of telephone quality.

Google users can disable the saving of voice activity and other types of personal information at Google's activity controls site, where they can also delete past recordings.

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"Language experts only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets", Google said.