Real Humans Might Be Listening To Your Dumb Google Home Questions

Well you chose to put that thing in your house

This week, Dutch publication VRT NWS shared a report detailing Google's practice of hiring independent contractors to listen to and transcribe Google Assistant audio recordings.

The technology company pays "language experts" around the world to listen to and transcribe audio recordings made by users.

The language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help Google better understand those languages.

If you use Android's Google Assistant, chances are you've noticed your phone occasionally waking up without your "OK Google" prompt.

The subcommittee plans to "examine the impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship", according to a release announcing the hearing. "Most of these recordings were made consciously, but Google also listens to conversations that should never have been recorded, some of which contain sensitive information", VRT claimed in its report. The clips, which were leaked by a whistleblower in collaboration with the Belgian broadcaster VRT, included information which was recorded even when the user had not said the magic words, "Ok, Google".

"Google has attempted to reassure users about the review process saying it applies ".a wide range of safeguards to protect user privacy throughout the entire review process" and that "audio snippets are not associated with user accounts". Given that VRT NWS was able to confront people with their own recordings, the reality would appear to be quite different.

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How it's supposed to work: Google Home should only be activated when someone says the triggers "OK, Google" or "Hey, Google".

When Google Assistant has difficulty making out a command, employees check the AI-generated script against what they hear in the clip. Some of these recordings contained highly sensitive and private information.

"We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data". The broadcaster said the recordings were provided by a whistle-blower working for a Google subcontractor. But if it happens when you're having a conversation, then Google will have also heard a short except of your conversation. Google acknowledged to Business Insider at the time that "We conduct a very limited fraction of audio transcription to improve speech-recognition systems".

According to the report, the excerpts are indeed disconnected from the information about the user they were obtained from, with the user name being replaced with an anonymous serial number.

It also said that sometimes, devices that have the Google Assistant built in may experience what the company called a "false accept", which means there was some noise or words in the background that its software interpreted to be the hotword.

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