July 16, 2019

Report: Google Admits Partners Leaked More Than 1,000 Private Conversations with Google Assistant

From CNBC:

Google admitted on Thursday that more than 1,000 sound recordings of customer conversations with the Google Assistant were leaked by some of its partners to a Belgian news site.

These conversations are used by companies such as Google and Amazon — which takes clips from the Amazon Echo — to improve voice responses from their smart assistants. They are supposed to be kept confidential.

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From The Verge:

It’s the latest story showing how our interactions with AI assistants are not as private as we may like to believe. Earlier this year, a report from Bloomberg revealed similar details about Amazon’s Alexa, explaining how audio clips recorded by Echo devices are sent without users’ knowledge to human contractors, who transcribe what’s being said in order to improve the company’s AI systems.

Worse, these audio clips are often recorded entirely by accident. Usually, AI assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant only start recording audio when they hear their wake word (eg, “Okay Google”), but these reports show the devices often start recording by mistake.

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From VRT (Belgian Broadcaster, Original Report):

Knowing that people who work for Google indirectly are listening to such recordings raises questions about privacy. In order to avoid excerpts being automatically linked to a user, they are disconnected from the user’s information. They delete the user name and replace it with an anonymous serial number.

[Clip]

In a reaction on the VRT’s report, Google admits that it works with language experts worldwide to improve speech technology. “This happens by making transcripts of of a small number of audio files”, Google’s spokesman for Belgium says. He adds that “this work is of crucial importance to develop technologies sustaining products such as the Google Assistant.” Google states that their language experts only judge “about 0.2 percent of all audio fragments”. These are not linked to any personal or identifiable information, the company adds.

See Also: Official Google Statement/Blog Post

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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