Google Assistant voice recordings reviewed by humans include private conversations

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Some voice snippets uploaded by Google Assistant are being reviewed by human contractors, as with Amazon Alexa, and can potentially include sensitive conversations, reports say.

Belgium's public broadcaster, VRT, recently gained access to over 1,000 audio files from a Google contractor tasked with reviewing Assistant audio, according to Wired. The audio was captured from devices such as phones, smartspeakers, and security cameras.

Google has acknowledged anonymously transcribing 0.2% of uploads to improve its technology, but instances in which Assistant is triggered accidentally appear to be capturing private information. In the case of a couple in Waasmunster, Belgium, audio included their address, their status as grandparents, and the voices of their son and grandchild.

Google's practices may violate the European Union's General Data Protection Regulations, scholars suggested. One worker screening audio said he encountered a recording in which it sounded like a woman was being physically attacked, but that Google didn't have clear guidelines on what to do in such cases.

A Google spokesperson said that the company has launched an investigation into the contractor mentioned by VRT, on the basis that it violated data security policies.

While Amazon and Google have been subject to the most scrutiny for their voice assistant policies, a technology policy researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in London — Michael Veale — has filed an Irish complaint regarding Apple's Siri, saying it violates the GDPR because users can't access uploaded audio. Both Amazon and Google let users review and delete voice samples.

Apple has responded, according to Veale, by saying that its systems handle data well enough that his recordings don't qualify as personal data.