VRT News claims that the tech company has hired independent contractors to listen in on and transcribe the audio recorded by the company's Google Assistant product in order to improve the voice recognition elements of the technology. A contractor in the Netherlands gave VRT NWS reporters access to the recordings they were tasked with reviewing. Users make use of Apple, Google and Amazon's voice-activated services because they trust their privacy is being safeguarded. He added that there are no clear guidelines provided regarding such cases. Google Home is just one of several devices equipped with Google Assistant, which can also be found on Android phones. However, the search giant says that only about 0.2 percent of audio files are analyzed and that this work is crucial for sustaining Google Assistant.
Around one in 5,000 recordings are sent to a language expert, it said.
Google has clearly stated in its terms and conditions that everything that is said to Google Assitant and Home devices is recorded.
Update 4:00 pm ET: Google is investigating the leaks that led to this report.
"These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages", he wrote. The clippings, the company says, are anonymous or not associated with user accounts and do not reveal a user's personal information.
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. Around a dozen people are employed to listen to Flemish-language conversations, with speakers of the language being mostly concentrated across parts of Belgium and Holland.
VRT NWS, a Belgian public broadcaster, has published a report revealing how it was able to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant and then confronted people with their recordings, which the broadcaster was able to find thanks to addresses and other sensitive information present in the audio clips.
Thanks to how your Google Home voice assistant records our conversations, which are sometimes triggered by mistake, audio clips - both those recorded on objective and otherwise - are being sent to engineers working on Google Home voice processing. They are not interested in what you are saying, but the way you are saying it. Google's computer system consists of smart, self-learning algorithms. Thus VRT NWS made a decision to find out if Google is doing the same.
Google responded to the report admitting that this is how language experts help to improve its speech technology. Even though Google disconnects excerpts from the user's information and deletes the user name, it is still possible to recover the identity of the user simply by listening to the except carefully.