Jul 11th, 2019

There’s a good chance that a real person has listened to some of your Google Assistant queries. A report from a whistleblower working for Google has revealed that the company is using contractors to transcribe roughly 0.2 percent of the questions that are posed to the Google Assistant in an effort to improve the system. While 0.2 percent may not sound like a big number, it means that roughly one out of every 500 “OK, Google” queries has been listened to and manually transcribed. 

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone since it was recently revealed that Amazon is basically doing the same thing with Alexa. All of the Google Assistant queries that are being listened to are de-coupled from the user’s account, so there is no digital trace back to who the voice belongs to.

Unfortunately, the whistleblower who brought this to light managed to share thousands of recordings with VRT News for the story, compromising any user privacy security measures Google had in place. Many of the recordings that VRT News listened to include personal information with the users revealing their names, addresses and other information. Google’s Home products so not start recording until audio until they hear the “OK, Google” or Hey, Google” trigger phrases, but they can often pick up on a similar-sounding phrase and start listening on their own by accident. 

Operated under the assumption that someone would eventually be listening to by Google Assistant queries is one thing, but having someone who’s been employed to do so share that information with an external source is something that should never happen. Google needs to find a way to remedy the issue and ensure that the data it collects on its users remains where it belongs.

 

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