Google has confirmed that it lets its contractors listen to recordings of customers' conversations with its voice-operated digital assistant, addressing privacy concerns raised by a recent media report.
The technology company pays "language experts" around the world to listen to and transcribe audio recordings made by users.
The soundbites pertaining personally identifiable information made it easier for VRT NWS to reach out to the people involved and make them listen to their own voices. It will be interesting to see where this investigation leads for Google - it isn't the first time they've been found to be doing this and they are not the first company to do so but with the spotlight already on them the privacy police in Europe may have a question or two to ask them.
The subcommittee plans to "examine the impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship", according to a release announcing the hearing.
While Google emphasizes that it anonymizes the snippets, replacing the user's name with a serial number, Belgian broadcaster VRT found that matching a voice snippet with its owner was not very hard, given the ample supply of addresses and sensitive information found on the recordings they were given. Its reporters managed to hear enough to discern the addresses of several Dutch and Belgian people using Google Home, in spite of the fact that some of them never said the listening trigger phrases.
"Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets". Out of the thousand or so recordings reviewed by VRT NWS, 153 were apparently recorded accidentally. For those unaware, users with Google Assistant on their phones and smart speakers have to speak "Ok, Google" to start a conversation with the AI-powered virtual assistant.
"We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again", he wrote.
Temporary workers, supplied by contractors, are sent audio recordings to transcribe so that Google can improve its services for people who speak in different accents and languages.
Google has clearly stated in its terms and conditions that everything that is said to Google Assitant and Home devices is recorded. Google uses these transcriptions to make Google Assistant smarter.
"We have just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data".
Google is able to claim it does not listen to the recordings Google Home devices are constantly generating only because it contracts the job out to temp workers.
Google responded to the report admitting that this is how language experts help to improve its speech technology.
We already know that Google thrives on data collection.
The company has pledged to investigate the issue and take action against the leaker.