The recent privacy scandal that Samsung‘s Smart TVs have brought the issue of privacy and security with such voice-controlled features into the spotlight. But if you thought that Samsung was alone in this behavior, you’d be dead wrong. Perhaps it isn’t common knowledge yet that smart assistants like Siri, Google Now, or even Cortana do keep your commands for some time for the purpose of improving services. But the duration of that storage as well as its reach is probably not so known. Until now.
A new employee at a certain company named Walk N’Talk Technologies claims that they are tasked to listen to audio clips and then rate how well the transcribed text matches the original spoken words. Sounds almost trivial until the said employee noticed that he was actually handling voice commands instead of completely random bits and pieces of audio. He (or she) specifically names Siri and “Galaxy”, which is Samsung’s trigger for its own S Voice service.
This may come as a shock to some, but perhaps it is even more shocking to realize that it is expected and that you yourself have agreed to it. In almost all cases, when you use this features for the first time, you will be shown a message informing you that your voice recordings will indeed be stored in the interests of improving the service. Whether or not you dismiss that prompt immediately, which most users likely do, the sad fact of the matter is that agreeing to that condition is the only way you can actually use Siri or Google Now or its ilk.
The idea that these recordings are being passed on to third parties might be the more worrying aspect of the revelation, but perhaps it is also a legal gray area. Samsung has admitted that it is employing an external company for analyzing its Smart TV voice commands, and we can only imagine the same is happening here with Siri and S Voice. The data is, presumably, anonymized so that even those third parties can’t match users with their voices. But depending on the company’s security measures, that might not be too reassuring. And regardless, the fact that a human person might have the chance of hearing your embarrassing outbursts or test commands is already unsettling.
To its credit, Google wasn’t explicitly named, which may hint that it is keeping everything in-house, though that still doesn’t remove the worry of embarrassment. Google also is a bit more transparent when it comes to those voice commands, which may actually also be a bad thing. You can access your own audio history, maybe for fun, by going to your Google Account Dashboard and scrolling to the Audio history and selecting Manage. Here you will see both audio and transcribed commands, which can reach as far back as a year ago. You can turn off this sort of history recording but, as Google’s help page says, it only means that the recordings are stored with anonymous identifiers and not logged to your account. They are, however, still stored and the only way out of that is by not using Google’s voice search functions.