Google has been reportedly employing workers to listen in to your conversations with the Google Assistant. The Mountain View giant hires independent contractors across the world to listen and transcribe audio recording from users speaking to its voice assistant. The news comes just months after Amazon was caught employing workers to listen to voice recordings extracted though Echo devices with some of them even having the power to access a user’s address and contact number.
According to Dutch publication VRT NWS, Google employees can listen to excerpts from the audio recording that are stored upon talking to the Google Assistant. While Google does mention that voice recordings are stored on their servers, the fact that its employees can listen to them hasn’t been added to its terms and conditions.
One such contractor spoke to the publication saying that he transcribes over a thousand audio recordings extracted from Google Assistant ever week. The report also mentions that of the thousand recordings reviewed, there were 153 audio clips which had been captured accidentally, meaning users won’t even know that their private conversations are being listened to over the internet.
The situation is similar to when an Amazon Echo device once listened in on conversations of a couple, recorded the same and sent it to a random person in their contacts. At the time, Amazon gave an excuse saying the Echo device might have done so due to an “unlikely” string of events that triggered it into recording and sending the audio clip to a contact.
Getting back to Google’s case, the contractor also revealed that he once reviewed the voice of a female in distress which might have been affected by an act of “physical violence”. He added, “and then it becomes real people you’re listening to, not just voices”.
The report added that while Google doesn’t reveal the addresses or contact numbers of users directly, it allows people to listen in. Instead, contractors were able to listen to recordings that disclosed sensitive information like addresses which in itself is an act against the privacy of users.
While companies like Google and Amazon are known to store these audio clips to improve their AI, the fact that a random individual is able to listen to your voice and sensitive information is indeed creepy. Knowing that Goole does employ contractors to listen to such recordings raises questions about privacy. And how much worse would it get if these voice recordings are triggered accidentally or if a wrong button is pressed on your phone? All this does beg a question – are you smart speakers making your any smart?