Yes, Google Listens to Some of Your Assistant Recordings. That’s Not Surprising.

 

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The proliferation of smart speakers has made it easier to listen to tunes and control smart home devices, but they also raise some potential privacy concerns. After all, these are internet-connected microphones capable of listening to your conversations from a great distance. Amazon has been under fire for how it manages Alexa voice data, and now Google is facing similar questions after a contractor gave reporters a chance to peruse customer recordings.

When you talk to the Google Assistant on your phone or smart speaker, the recording of that interaction gets stored in your Google account — you can go back and listen to any past recording and see what Google made of your speech. If you dig into the Google terms of use, you’ll see that the company reserves the right to use those recordings to improve its products.

The issue comes into play with how Google uses those recordings. A contractor in the Netherlands gave VRT NWS reporters access to the recordings they were tasked with reviewing. The site claims the recordings contained personal information like names and addresses, even though the data was not tied to user accounts.

So, that sounds bad for Google. However, there are a few important factors that don’t get ample coverage in the original report. For one, Assistant only records your voice when it hears the “Hey Google” trigger phrase. You also have full control over what happens with your recordings. There’s an account toggle that stops Google from saving anything, and you can choose to have voice recordings purged after set lengths of time. The real issue here is Google was too vague when it talked about using recordings to improve the service. Mainstream users probably didn’t expect that other people would be listening to their voices.

Google has responded to the report quite forcefully, pointing out that only about 0.2 percent of Assistant commands get a human review. Workers feed their transcriptions back into the Google algorithm to make the service better for everyone. Google calls the revealing of customer data to VRT NWS a violation of data security policies.

The company has pledged to investigate the issue and take action against the leaker. Google also says it will work to improve how it explains the Assistant privacy settings to people. If you want to change your privacy settings, check out this support page.

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