Google officials have admitted that the company's workers can listen to Google Assistant users, and that one of them recently leaked confidential data. A Dutch language expert working for Google to train its speech technology leaked private information in a breach of the company's security policies, company officials said. The disclosure came after Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS reported that its reporters listened to more than 1,000 conversations recorded by the search giant's virtual assistant, including some that revealed identifiable information about the users. "As part of our work to develop speech technology for more languages, we partner with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a specific language," Google executive David Monsees wrote in a blog post posted on Thursday. These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages." "We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.
Alexa has had a lot of explaining to do. Since Amazon's voice assistant debuted in 2014, the company has convinced millions of people to invite Alexa into their homes. They use it to play music, serve up the news and answer trivia questions. This year, though, the online retailing giant faced a backlash after news broke that human reviewers were sometimes listening to recordings of users' private conversations with Alexa. Those privacy problems will likely cast a shadow on Amazon's annual product launch, which takes place Wednesday in Seattle.
A German privacy watchdog has ordered Google to cease manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI. This follows a leak last month of scores of audio snippets from the Google Assistant service. A contractor working as a Dutch language reviewer handed more than 1,000 recordings to the Belgian news site VRT which was then able to identify some of the people in the clips. It reported being able to hear people's addresses, discussion of medical conditions, and recordings of a woman in distress. The Hamburg data protection authority told Google of its intention to use Article 66 powers of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to begin an "urgency procedure" under Article 66 of GDPR last month.
Amazon, Apple and Google all employ staff who listen to customer voice recordings from their smart speakers and voice assistant apps. News site Bloomberg highlighted the topic after speaking to Amazon staff who "reviewed" Alexa recordings. All three companies say voice recordings are occasionally reviewed to improve speech recognition. But the reaction to the Bloomberg article suggests many customers are unaware that humans may be listening. The news site said it had spoken to seven people who reviewed audio from Amazon Echo smart speakers and the Alexa service.
Not all voice assistants can handle the same requests. We put Siri, Alexa and Google to the test. As privacy concerns loom large over smart speakers, a new investigation has found that Google's smart speakers might infringe on individual privacy more than buyers realize. Even when Google Home smart speakers aren't activated, the speakers are eavesdropping closely, often to private, intimate conversations, a report by Dutch broadcaster VRT has uncovered. Recordings found by VRT contain startling content: Couples' quarrels that may have potentially resulted in domestic violence, explicit conversations in the bedroom, men searching for pornography, confidential business calls, and talks with children.