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Google says leaked assistant recordings are a violation of data security policies

12 July 2019

In one "accidental" recording, a woman was in "definite distress", the temp said.

VRT NWS was able to listen to thousands of these excerpts, including ones that shouldn't have been recorded in the first place.

According to the report, Google acknowledged that it works with subcontractors to transcribe conversations, which is meant to improve its speech technology (speech recognition automatically generates scripts, and the subcontractor then double checks for accuracy, correcting where necessary).

It is stated in its terms and conditions that a user's conversation will be recorded, and Google's blog post said capturing the interaction is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant.

In February, Google detailed that its Nest Guard, the centrepiece of the Nest Secure home alarm system, would soon receive Google Assistant functionality - meaning the device needed to have both a speaker and microphone.

A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that language experts are employed to transcribe "a small set of queries", approximately 0.2 percent of audio snippets which are then used to develop the technology that allows Google Assistant to run. The company also confirms that an employee has leaked Dutch recordings, saying it's investigating and will take action.

Monsees says the contractor violated the company's data security policies and there is an investigation underway.

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. Some of these conversations end up being transcribed by "language experts" hired by the company. Google acknowledged to Business Insider at the time that "We conduct a very limited fraction of audio transcription to improve speech-recognition systems".

Google Assistant is available on more than 1 billion devices, including smartphones and smart speakers.

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.

Some of these conversations were not directed at Assistant and happened either as background noise or as a mistaken recording when Assistant thought it was being spoken to, but wasn't.

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.

"Why is Google storing these recordings and why does it have employees listening to them?"

Google says leaked assistant recordings are a violation of data security policies