GOOGLE has admitted that its employees are listening to your private conversations – snooping on details about your personal life, including your name and address.
The admission by the tech giant came after a damning investigation into the #Google Assistant virtual helper revealed how humans are eavesdropping on your audio files.
Google Assistant is the artificial intelligence helper that lives inside Android smartphones, as well as Google Home smart speakers.
It’s typically controlled using voice commands, which are short snippets of audio sent to Google’s servers.
These audio files are supposed to be private: a computer should process them and then give you an answer, with zero interaction from humans.
But Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS has revealed how Google is handing over these audio files to human contractors.
These contractors are tasked with transcribing the audio clips collected by the Google Assistant.
This means they’ll hear requests made to the Google Assistant without the knowledge of the gadget owner.
Worse still, audio clips are often recorded by the Google Assistant by mistake.
This happens when the assistant thinks you’ve said “Hey Google” or “OK Google”, and begins recording background noise.
As a result, Google collects audio files of private conversations without your knowledge or permission.
In the investigation, 153 of more than 1,000 recordings leaked by a contractor had been captured accidentally.
And the contractor in question admitted that Google tasked him with transcribing as many as 1,000 audio clips every single week.
Some of the recordings contained troubling material.
“One of our sources says he had to describe a recording where he heard a woman who was in definite distress,” the report reads.
The source added that he felt “physical violence” was a factor in the recording.
What is Google Assistant?
Here’s what you need to know…
- Google Assistant is a virtual helper that you control using your voice
- She (or he, if you change the voice) can help you with everyday tasks like finding out about the news or weather
- It’ll set reminders and timers, let you check your Google calendar, play music, and even make hands-free calls
- All you need to do is say “OK Google” or “Hey Google” out loud, and then issue a command
- And if you have compatible smart home gadgets (like a Philips Hue Lightbulb or Nest Thermostat) then you’ll be able to control those using the Google Assistant too
Google claimed that the transcription process is designed to improve the Assistant and make her more useful.
Responding to the report, David Monsees, a Product Manager for Search at Google, said: “We apply a wide range of safeguards to protect user privacy throughout the entire review process.
“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets.
“Audio snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.
“And reviewers are directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google.”
Google has also criticised the employee who leaked data and said they “violated our data security policies”.
“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action,” Google said.
“We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”