While Google emphasizes that it anonymizes the snippets, replacing the user's name with a serial number, Belgian broadcaster VRT found that matching a voice snippet with its owner was not very hard, given the ample supply of addresses and sensitive information found on the recordings they were given.
According to the VRT News report, most of the recordings subcontractors listen to are ones that are made consciously by Google Home users. "This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant".
Google says no user account information is associated with the recordings, and reviewers are instructed not to transcribe background conversations. That is how the company is able to tailor its services to users, including obviously its search engine, but also its AI assistant.
Despite the fact that recordings are anonymized, in the recordings it heard, VRT NWS was able to make out names, addresses, and other identifying information that made it very easy to track down the speakers. The company announced in a blog post that it is "conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again". Now, a new report published by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS claims Google employees listen to conversations recorded by Google Home devices as well as the Google Assistant app. "Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action".
The devices also caught some mistaken recordings (sometimes Google thinks it hears its name when you've said a similar word) that contained all sorts of sensitive material.
Google Assistant is available on more than 1 billion devices, including smartphones and smart speakers. It also added that its contractors only judge "about 0.2 per cent of all audio fragments", which are "not linked to any personal or identifiable information".
Google responded by saying the failure to make users aware of a microphone in Nest Guard was nothing more than a mistake.
A report from Bloomberg had revealed earlier this year that Amazon uses human workers to review audio clips recorded by Alexa without the knowledge of the company's customers. Employees are tasked with precisely transcribing voice commands given, meaning they need to double-check spellings and the like - in turn, forcing them to look up the people and locations they are listening to.
A Google subcontractor told VRT that thousands of employees worldwide listen to conversations with the aim of improving the Google voice-recognition algorithms.
Facebook isn't secretly listening in on your phone conversations.