Google Home allegedly records clips without trigger, sends to contractor

JC Torres - Jul 10, 2019, 8:10 pm CDT
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Google Home allegedly records clips without trigger, sends to contractor

Just three months ago, Amazon was revealed to be sending its presumed anonymous and very private Alexa recordings to humans that listen to and process the audio to help the assistant become smarter. It turns out that it might not be alone in doing so. A new report claims that even Google may be guilty of the same thing, with Google Home recording clips even without the customary “Hey Google” trigger.

There are two levels to this supposed revelation. The first is that Google Home apparently records audio even without being explicitly asked. Smart speaker makers may defend this behavior by saying that the speakers need to be on alert for wake up phrases. Those, however, would also say that the speakers don’t actually keep a recording of the audio.

According to a whistleblower who claims to be a Google subcontractor, that isn’t the case. These clips, along with the regular recorded Google Assistant commands, are sent to companies who do the same tagging and processing of clips to improve the AI’s performance. The problem is that these clips can be quite revealing.

Considering how much people can reveal about themselves when they presume no one is listening, it might not take much to investigate and trace the source of such clips. Some of these recordings also contain legally questionable content but the listeners have not been given any guidelines on how to deal with such situations. The whistleblower did say that Google does try to anonymize the data but Belgian broadcaster VRT was able to deduce Dutch and Belgian users from them.

Google says it only uses 0.2% of all audio clips recorded by Google Home speakers for transcribing. It doesn’t exactly address the issues raised by the broadcaster though we can probably guess what its response will be. Needless to say, this puts smart speakers in a negative light once again, though it will probably take a Facebook-like scandal to make sales and popularity plummet.


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