Google has admitted that it listens to voice recordings of users from its AI voice-assistant Google Assistant after its Dutch language recordings were leaked by Belgian public broadcaster VRT. “Most of these recordings were made consciously, but Google also listens to conversations that should never have been recorded, some of which contain sensitive information,” VRT claimed in its report.
Google’s product manager of Search David Monsees admitted, in a company blog post, that its language experts globally listen to these recordings to help Google better understand languages to develop speech technology.
“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,” the post read.
Google. however, insists that only around 0.2 per cent of all audio snippets are reviewed. The clippings, the company says, are anonymous or not associated with user accounts and do not reveal a user’s personal information. The post adds that no background noise is transcribed by the language experts to maintain privacy.
However, of over 1,000 recordings from Assistant, which is used on smartphones, smart home speakers like Google Home and other products, VRT reported that 153 were recorded accidentally and even revealed some personal information of users such as their address in one case and names of grandchildren of a family in another.
Notably, to activate the Google Assistant, users need to say the phrase “OK, Google” or physically trigger the Assistant button on devices, after which it starts recording. Though rare, Google admits that Assistant may falsely accept recording request sometimes when triggered by interpreting something else as “Ok Google”. According to the post, this tends to happen when there is too much background noise.
Earlier this year, rival Amazon admitted to listening to “extremely small sample” of Alexa voice recordings captured via Echo to train its speech recognition and natural language understanding systems. The statement was made after Bloomberg revealed in a report that thousands of Amazon employees around the world listen to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.