Google to investigate Assistant audio recordings leak
A Belgian news organization has revealed that Google hires subcontractors to listen and review audio files recorded by Google Assistant.
VRT NWS, a news organization based in Brussels, Belgium, reported that they were able was able to talk to someone who works for a company that Google has subcontracted and lets them look at the system that collects audio via Google Assistant. The news organization was allowed to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant from users in Belgium and the Netherlands.
VRT NWS said that in more than a thousand experts, “153 of which were conversations that should never have been recorded” because the ‘Okay Google’ command was clearly not given. “As soon as someone in the vicinity utters a word that sounds a bit like ‘Okay Google’, Google Home starts to record.”
In response to the report, Google explained in a blog post that they partner with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a specific language. The language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help Google better understand those languages, which is a critical part of the process of building speech technology for products like Google Assistant.
Google, of course, is not happy that the data was leaked and considered it as a violation of Google’s data security policies.
“We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”
Google said that audio snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process and that reviewers are directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google.
“The Google Assistant only sends audio to Google after your device detects that you’re interacting with the Assistant—for example, by saying “Hey Google” or by physically triggering the Google Assistant. A clear indicator (such as the flashing dots on top of a Google Home or an on-screen indicator on your Android device) will activate any time the device is communicating with Google in order to fulfill your request. Rarely, devices that have the Google Assistant built in may experience what we call a “false accept.” This means that there was some noise or words in the background that our software interpreted to be the hotword (like “Ok Google”). We have a number of protections in place to prevent false accepts from occurring in your home. “
Google also said that users can turn off storing audio data to their Google account completely, or choose to auto-delete data after every 3 months or 18 months.