Google contractors can listen to what people say to its AI home devices

Google has admitted that its contractors can listen to recordings taken by Google Assistant, the company’s smart assistant. 

This news comes to light after Dutch language recordings taken by Google Assistant were leaked earlier this week, with the Belgian broadcaster VRT acquiring them. VRT went through 1,000 separate recordings and found that 153 of them were captured accidentally.

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Once awakened by a keyphrase like “OK, Google” or “Hey Google”, Google Assistant begins recording audio, both to help with your query but also to improve the quality of future Google Assistant… assistance.

Thing is, to do that contractors are given access to recordings so they can help people to better understand language patterns and accents. Google claimed this before in their user terms, however users feeling weird about their recordings being accessed can turn the feature off, losing access to a few of Google’s more personalised features.

Google has long claimed that these audio files are stripped of identifying information ahead of any contractors getting access to the recording, however VRT discovered that this wasn’t the case, because in addition to people’s voices being unique, the thing’s discussed in the audio include addresses, personal information and even people talking about things like their children, love life, or employment.

The spectre of the GDPR, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, looms large over this one. It’s not clear whether the recordings kept by Google are compliant with GDPR.

Google isn’t the only company with privacy issues over its smart assistant technology.  Amazon recently faced scandal because its Alexa voice service was also using contractors to review audio recordings.

Google has said it is looking into the breach which saw the recordings leaked into the world.

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