Published: Fri, July 12, 2019
IT | By Lester Massey

Google uses humans to review Google Assistant queries, report says

Google uses humans to review Google Assistant queries, report says

It was found that numerous recordings included identifiable personal details of users, while 153 conversations were seemingly recorded by accident, as the wake command of "OK Google" or "Hey Google" wasn't used to trigger the digital assistant.

According to the VRT News report, most of the recordings subcontractors listen to are ones that are made consciously by Google Home users.

Devices like Google Home, Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa have risen in popularity in recent years.

According to the report, Google employs thousands of contractors around the world to transcribe Assistant conversations, although they all use a secure login to access the recordings via the company's Crowdsource app.

Perhaps most troubling, at least some of those recordings do not appear to have been trigged with an activation phrase like "Hey, Google". "We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again", the blog penned by Google product manager of Search David Monsees said. Recorded voices leaked to VRT included "bedroom conversations, conversations between parents and their children, but also blazing rows and professional phone calls containing lots of private information".

In a statement, the company said a small number of anonymous recordings were transcribed by its experts, and revealed that an investigation had been launched after some Dutch audio data had been leaked. The incident is being investigated by the company, and it says action will be taken against the leaker.

Perhaps the bigger issue is that although the company says that none of those audio clips are linked to any identifiable information, VRT NWS, which went over a thousand such recordings, said that some of the clips also reveal sensitive information such as addresses and using that data, they were able to track down the people involved.

Google responded to the report admitting that this is how language experts help to improve its speech technology.

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. Moreover, transcribers are instructed "not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google". More information on how to manage and delete Google Assistant data can be found at this Google help page.

Although Google clearly doesn't seem to have nefarious intentions behind this effort, the fact that other people can listen to what you say to your device could be seen as a potential privacy concern.

People who turn off the recording feature lose the ability for the Assistant to recognise individual voices and learn your voice pattern.

To disable this setting, head to Google's Voice & Audio Activity page while signed into your account, then switch the toggle off.

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