Google Admits Staff Listen to Google Home Recordings

John Lister's picture

Google has admitted that staff listen to some recordings from the Google Home smart speaker. It says it's only for quality control purposes.

It made the comments after a contractor in the Netherlands went to local media to talk about his work, in which he was paid a "few cents" to transcribe comments and questions made by people using the voice controlled device or phone app.

According to the worker, some of the clips he heard did not appear to be people intentionally using the device. This included one case of a mother scolding a child and another clip which the worker suspected included sounds of physical violence.

Nearly One In Six Recordings A 'Mistake'

A Dutch television station examined the audio of around a thousand recordings provided by the contractor, which represented one week's transcription work.

It estimated that 153 of the recordings were made accidentally rather than being intentionally triggered by the user. The most likely cause was the device mistakenly thinking it had heard the "wake word" phrase, usually set to "OK, Google."

Among the conversations included in the recordings were one which mentioned a user's home address and one detailing a person's medical conditions. (Source: wired.com)

Google has since issued a statement, reading: "We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries; this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant. Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process." (Source: telegraph.co.uk)

Consent Questioned

Google also said this activity wasn't secret, noting a privacy policy clause that states "We also ask for your consent to collect your voice and audio activity for speech recognition." However, critics say it doesn't make clear that humans will access the recordings.

That could be important as European privacy laws require that users know what information will be collected before they can give meaningful consent to the collection. The rules are particularly tough when it comes to medical information.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use a smart speaker or similar voice-activated gadget? Were you aware that human staff listen to some recordings? Should Google be forced to improve the software to avoid collecting audio by mistake?

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Comments

matt_2058's picture

It was a matter of time before the truth came out. Of course Google listens. Look at all the apps that want access to alot of unrelated stuff on your phone. I think there will be alot more of this unless the governments step in to protect citizens. As much as I believe in minimal Government, this is one of those times it is going to be necessary.

ifpusr's picture

...fuckingbelievable.

Utterly brazen. We're being trained. Unless we act we'll be absolutely without civil rights.

SUE THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!