What we ask Google Assistant is recorded and listened to by Google employees

Yesterday the Belgian broadcaster  VRT NWS revealed in a report that there are Google employees who actually listen to the recordings of our conversations with Google Assistant, the virtual assistant that can be accessed from a smartphone or from the Home series home devices /Nest. VRT NWS also claims to have had access to thousands of recordings, recordings that have been heard even by several recognized users. It's definitely my voice," Said one of the people who had the opportunity to listen to the incriminated recordings. Three sources, obviously remaining anonymous, which revealed everything to VRT NWS, also supplying the original audio data.
What we are reporting refers to recordings made and listened to in Belgium and the Netherlands. The issuer's report also mentions the fact that there are thousands of Google employees around the world who use a particular system that collects all Assistant audio recordings and allows them to be listened to. In the area involved between Belgium and the Netherlands, there would be a dozen Google employees in charge of listening to these conversations.
What we ask Google Assistant is recorded and listened to by Google employees
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It is then necessary to make other clarifications. Google employees mentioned in the VRT NWS report do not actively listen to user conversations. Those that are listened to are precisely recordings, which are theoretically memorized only when the keywords are pronounced to start a conversation with Google Assistant. In theory, because if you have a Google Home device in your home you will probably know that the devices in question sometimes activate by mistake, and even in these cases the audio could be recorded and exploited. But what would Google do with such recordings? They are used to improve the search engine and consequently also the performance of Google Assistant. The " problem" Is that Google can do it (except in the case of accidental registrations). In terms of service of Google, those that we accept when we decide to use Google Assistant or devices that use it anyway, you can read the following:
A portion of our Services enable you to transfer, transmit, store, send or get contentYou maintain any intellectual property rights held on such content. In short, what belongs to the user remains his property.When the user uploads, transmits, stores, sends or receives content from or through our Services, it grants Google (and the partners we work with) a global license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works ( such as those deriving from translations, adaptations or other modifications made in such a way that the contents work best with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute the aforementioned contents. The rights you grant with this license are for the limited purpose of using, promoting and improving our Services and to develop new ones.
The last sentence is exactly what Google does with recordings of conversations with Google Assistant: it uses them to " improve our Services and develop new ones ". The situation is a bit smokier in the case of random recordings. VRT NWS has listened as already mentioned thousands of recordings, including as many as 153 conversations " that should not have been recorded ": private telephone calls, conversations between parents and children, conversations " from the bedroom" and more. One of the three anonymous sources who revealed the whole thing to VRT NWS also admitted to having heard a recording in which they clearly heard a woman asking for help, probably a case of domestic violence. We cannot say if the terms of service actually cover this kind of recordings.

But aside from the conversations recorded casually, how do you generally get into the issue of privacy? The VRT NWS report also explains this. In theory, each recording is accompanied by sensitive data. The system used by Google, the one we mentioned earlier, deletes the user name and replaces it with a serial number completely anonymous. The problem is that it is enough to listen to the recordings to gradually reconstruct sensitive information about the user and his family. And as if this were not enough in order to obtain useful data to improve the performance of Google's assistant, employees search for addresses, words, names or anything else present in their own records on Google or Facebook. It does not take much then to completely reconstruct the profile of the person you are listening to.
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Google has already responded to what VRT NWS reported by claiming to work worldwide with language experts to improve its listening technology. A spokesman for the Belgian division of Google said: “ We use transcriptions of a small number of audio files; it is a crucial job for the development of products such as Google Assistant “. However, it should be emphasized that Google is not the only company that makes use of these registrations to improve its services. Bloomberg's April report stated the same thing as Amazon Alexa.

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