Your Conversations Aren’t Private Around Google Assistant
by Samra Anees
As more voice-controlled systems come online, there are growing privacy concerns surrounding how our devices listen to us—even when we are unaware and when they are not being used. As we have seen in the past with devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, having smart devices and smart cameras means that there is potential for the device to be activated without users’ knowledge and this becomes a breach of privacy.
In a recent blog, Google confirmed that contractors listen to consumer audio that is recorded by Google Assistant, the company’s virtual assistant that is available on Google Home and Android devices. In some cases, consumers are being recorded without their knowledge and even when they’re not talking to Google Assistant.
In this blog, we explore the implications and privacy concerns of Google Assistant recording customers’ conversations.
Recording Conversations Is the Norm for Voice Technology, But Where Are the Boundaries?
Google said that it listens to 0.2% of the audio snippets taken from Google Assistants as a way for its language experts to get a better understanding of different languages and accents as a “critical part” in building speech technology. Google is investigating the contractor that leaked some of these audio clips to a news source that brought to light Google’s practice of listening to recorded audio snippets.
Google Assistant is only one of many virtual assistants (Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, etc.), and it is not uncommon for makers of voice technology to listen to audio snippets to identify any errors the technology may be making. If customers were made aware that the conversations they have with Google Assistant could potentially be recorded and used for technology building, the issue would not be so great.
The problem is that some of these conversations that end up being recorded and then listened to by contractors are private conversations that consumers are not aware are being recorded. Google Assistant is only supposed to be activated when someone says “Ok Google,” or taps a button on their phone; but somehow, Assistant is being activated and recording conversations that are not meant for it.
Companies Need to Take Responsibility When It Comes to Privacy
While it is understandable that some of the conversations users have with Google Assistant be recorded and used for product development (given that users are aware of this when they purchase and use the product), a line has to be drawn when it comes to how conversations are recorded and how it is possible for Google Assistant to be activated unintentionally. Google needs to do its do-diligence and ensure that if it’s necessary for it to record conversations, then the privacy of its users needs to be respected and ensured above all else.
Although Google says that audio snippets are decoupled from the users they are recorded from, it is still unacceptable that these devices that people keep in their home could potentially be recording their private conversations, and this issue needs to be addressed and fixed.
It’s time for companies to start taking responsibility for the technology they make available to consumers and value the privacy of their consumers, rather than turning a blind eye to potential breaches of consumer privacy, such as what Google is doing and other companies have done in the past. There needs to be more visibility into how and when consumer data is used, and guidelines that ensure that it is done responsibly. Consumer privacy seems to be a growing concern more and more each day, and people are and will start to become even more wary of these devices and how they can potentially impact their privacy.