Google Is Looking Into the Source of Voice Data Leaks

Image: Google Assistant

This week, Google responded to a report from broadcaster VRT NWS, which revealed that contractors have access to Google Assistant’s voice recordings. These recordings contain sensitive information like addresses, private conversations, business calls and so on.

On that note, Google says it’s now ready to investigate and take action against the contractor.

The company partnered with language experts who reviewed a “small set of queries” in order to help Google better understand different languages.
Just a 0.2% percentage of all audio snippets are reviewed, and, according to the company, those are not associated with any Google accounts during the review process.

After listening to over 1,000 recordings, the leakster concluded that 153 of them were accidental and decided not to ask Google for help. It was also determined that finding out a user’s identity was possible because the recordings would reveal personal info, like “bedroom conversations,” medical inquiries and other sensitive situations.

Google said the transcription process was a necessary part of providing voice assistant technologies to its international users. On that note, Google decided to go after the leakster themselves.

“[Transcription] is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant,” writes David Monsees, product manager for Search at Google, in the blog post. “We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” he said.

Not so long ago, Amazon responded to a U.S. senator’s inquiry regarding the handling of consumers’ voice records, after a CNET investigation discovered that Alexa stored the transcriptions of the records it made, indefinitely. Moreover, a Bloomberg report recently revealed that Amazon workers and contractors had access to the recordings.

Neither Amazon or Google alerted their consumers on how the voice recordings were being used.

According to Wired, the Google Home privacy policy doesn’t reveal that Google is using contract labor to review audio recordings and notes that data leaves the device only when the wake word is activated.

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into a possible antitrust investigation of Google’s business practices and is keeping a close eye on the company. In its defense, Google highlights the fact that users do have the option of choosing if their audio data is stored. According to the company, they can either turn off audio data storage or opt to have their data auto-deleted every three or 18 months.

“We’re always working to improve how we explain our settings and privacy practices to people and will be reviewing opportunities to further clarify how data is used to improve speech technology,” said Monsees.

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