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article imageEmployees have been listening in to Google Assistant

By Tim Sandle     Jul 11, 2019 in Technology
A news report finds that contractors employed by Google have been listening in and transcribing audio recordings captured by Google's AI assistant. This includes capturing sensitive information.
The finding that Google has been collecting and analyzing data captured by its voice assistant devices comes from the Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS. The report finds that Google contractors have transcribed audio recordings and inputted data for analysis, which extends to sensitive information relating to users of Google products. This extends to people's names, their addresses, plus various details about their personal lives.
This news comes after it was revealed that employees at Amazon have been listening in to voice commands given by users to the digital assistant Alexa, in the form of instructions ("Alexa, turn on the lights") and questions ("Amazon, where is the nearest clinic"). Plus the revelation that, via Alexa, Amazon can keep track of a youngster's use of Alexa-enabled devices and from this it is possible to construct a "vast level of detail about the child's life".
READ MORE: Amazon sued over Alexa's recording of child's voice
According to The Verge, Google has continually claimed that it does not eavesdrop. However, this statement could be interpreted as disingenuous by some. Google may not 'listen live', but this does not prevent that company from analyzing recordings at a later date.
The report by VRT NWS only looks at Dutch and Flemish speaking Google Assistant users. However, just from this one region of the world it appears that many recordings are being studied. An interview with one contractor reveals that the individual alone transcribes over 1,000 audio clips from Google Assistant every week. Of concern is that in one of the clips the contractor reviewed he reports listening to a female voice in distress and “physical violence” could have been involved.
In response to the revelation, a spokesperson for Google informed Wired that only 0.2 percent of all recordings are transcribed by humans, and that there is no identifying information about the user. The Google employee goes on to state that carrying out this exercise is essential for improving speech recognition technology.
More about Alexa, home assistant, voice assistant, Recording
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