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When you talk to Google Assistant, a human might get to listen

When you talk to Google Assistant, a human might get to listen
[Photo: Niclas Illg/Unsplash]

Amazon Alexa isn’t the only voice assistant that ships off users’ voice recordings for human review. Google also has workers listen to audio recordings from Google Home speakers and the Google Assistant app to improve its transcriptions.

Although Google confirmed this activity back in April, a new report by the Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS sheds more light on the process. It notes, for instance, that while Google Assistant only starts listening when it hears a “Hey Google” voice command, it’s not unusual for a recording to begin by accident; one worker told VRT NWS that he heard audio of “a woman who was in definite distress,” but he had no clear guidelines on what to do with this information.

In a new blog post, Google says it only reviews about 0.2% of recordings, though that could still add up to a significant amount of human listening, since Assistant is available on more than 1 billion devices. Last holiday season, for instance, people used Google Assistant 16 million times for recipes alone. Google also says it’s investigating the contractor whose workers blew the whistle for breaching data security policies.

In any event, Google doesn’t clearly disclose human review on its Google Home privacy page. And while transcriptions technically require the user to opt in, Google lumps the practice under a broad “Voice & Audio Activity” setting, which it offers to users as a way to deliver more personalized results.

To disable this setting, head to Google’s Voice & Audio Activity page while signed into your account, then switch the toggle off.

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