Google Suspends European Voice Assistant Transcriptions

Google has suspended reviewing voice recordings from its Google Assistant virtual helper in the European Union.

It comes after a leak of Dutch audio data to a Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, a company spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday.

Google had admitted in July that it uses ‘language experts’ around the world to study small ‘snippets’ of user recordings gained from Google Home smart speakers.

Halting transcriptions

VRT NWS had reported that Google contractors are paid to transcribe audio clips collected by Google’s AI assistant can end up listening to sensitive information about users, including names, addresses, and details about their personal lives.

It seems that CRT NWS had the help of a whistleblower, who revealed that Google uses thousands of subcontractors to listen into audio recordings.

“Shortly after we learned about the leaking of confidential Dutch audio data, we paused language reviews of the Assistant to investigate,” the spokeswoman told Reuters. The company performs reviews for only around 0.2 percent of all audio clips, she added.

Google said it is working with the Hamburg data protection authority and is assessing how it conducts audio reviews.

CNBC meanwhile reported, citing the Associated Press, that Google will suspend the transcriptions for at least three months.

Privacy worries

It should be noted that Google is far from alone at the concerns being raised about the privacy worries its personal assistants are creating.

Earlier this year it was revealed that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people speaking to their Alexa-powered smart speakers.

And this week Damian Collins MP, chairman of the influential cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, urged new Prime Minister Damian Collins to toughen online harms legislation after a spate of privacy scares surrounding Alexa.

Matters were not helped Amazon admitted in a letter to a US senator that it keeps Alexa user voice recordings indefinitely.

Amazon has been hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers are recording children.

Jitters were raised again about Amazon again in May when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, even before a command is actually issued.

Can you protect your privacy online? Take our quiz!

Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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