A report from Bloomberg had revealed earlier this year that Amazon employs a global team that transcribes your voice commands to help improve Alexa’s grasp of human speech. Now, a new report published by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS has revealed how Google employees listen to audio recordings by the company’s Google Home smart speakers and the Google Assistant app.

VRT NWS gained access to more than a thousand audio excerpts recorded by Google Assistant in Belgium and the Netherlands. These snippets of audio are supposed to be private and should be processed without human interaction. Recordings sent to Google employees also contain highly sensitive information and private information such as addresses.

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. VRT NEWS said these people confirmed that the recordings contained their voices.

Google Home

Don’t be evil, Google.

Google Home is supposed to record only when users use the “Okay Google” or “Hey Google” voice commands. According to the VRT NWS report, 153 of the 1,000 audio files it listened to “were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘OK Google’ was clearly not given.” In some cases, the soundbites included bedroom conversations, conversations between parents and their children, and rows and professional phone calls containing extremely private information.

It’s business as usual for Google!

Google responded to VRT NWS story in a blog post today by displaying zero accountability.

“We just learned that one of [our] language reviewers has violated our data-security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data,” Google said. “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.”

It defended the practice in today’s blog post by saying: “As part of our work to develop speech technology for more languages, we partner with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a specific language,” Google wrote. “These 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 creating products like the Google Assistant.”

Google Home users can choose to disable the saving of voice activity and other types of personal information at Google’s activity controls site. Users can also manage and delete past recordings by Google Assistant.

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