Google's Assistant isn't the only one listening to your conversations

Adjust Comment Print

"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.

VRT NWS gained access to more than a thousand audio excerpts recorded by Google Assistant in Belgium and the Netherlands.

VRT NWS actually reached out to some of the recorded folks who confirmed that it was their voices and how shocked they were to discover their recording had been made available to Google subcontractors. Other snippets included sex and pillow talk, fights, and professional phone calls packed with private information.

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.

According to Google, contractors listen to only 0.2% of all audio clips and none are "associated with user accounts".

"We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data".

The Belgian broadcaster said the recordings were done despite the fact that some of Google Home users did not even say the wake word, "Ok Google".

Nintendo Switch Lite revealed, will release September 20
As such, there is no kickstand or video out option for playing on a television and you don't get a bundled dock or HDMI cable. However, Nintendo has kept the same resolution, so games should look a little sharper on the Switch Lite.

Update 4:00 pm ET: Google is investigating the leaks that led to this report.

Google insisted to VRT that all was well because it worked with "language experts worldwide" to transcribe hard-to-understand snippets of recorded conversations. The report claims sensitive information such as addresses were clearly heard in some of the recordings, which allowed them to get in touch with the people involved and make them listen to their own voices.

It said it believed the devices logged these conversations because users said a word or phrase that sounded similar to "OK Google" that triggered the device. According to Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS, users' conversations with Google Home speakers are being recorded and audio clips are being sent to sub-contractors. In a related FAQ, Google explains that it "collects data that's meant to make our services faster, smarter, and more relevant, and more useful to you".

Google users can disable the saving of voice activity and other types of personal information at Google's activity controls site, where they can also delete past recordings.

So if you're using a Google Home smart speaker, or a Nest Hub, maybe stop and think whether the utility it's offering you is enough to let random strangers listen in on things you're saying to the Assistant, and also, sometimes, thing you're saying when the Assistant accidentally activates.

The contractors and subcontractors further use these recordings to improve speech recognition technology. Google reportedly tries to ensure that the voice excerpts are not being linked to a user account to make it hard to track someone's identity.

Comments