Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Google employees ‘admit listening to conversations on smart speakers and phones’

Google employees have admitted listening to people’s private conversations, foreign media reports.

A team representing the tech giant were being quizzed by a parliamentary panel in the state of Jharkhand, India.

They said that employees listen to conversations when users open Google Assistant on their smart phones or speakers and say “OK, Google”, sources told India Today.

However, the AI assistant occasionally records snippets of conversation without the prompt, it is claimed.

Google earlier said that only a tiny amount of the audio is accessible, and that employees avoid listening to sensitive conversations.

However, it is unclear how the company makes the distinction.

A Google rep later said in a statement to Android Authority: “Since this was a closed-door hearing, we can’t comment on stories based on unnamed sources but I am sharing all the details that can help you understand how Assistant works."

On the Safety Centre section of its website, Google writes: “In standby mode, the device processes short snippets of audio (a few seconds) to detect an activation – like when you say Hey Google.

“If no activation is detected, then those audio snippets won’t be sent or saved to Google.”

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When it hears the wake word, “the recording can include a few seconds before you activate your Assistant to catch your request at the right time”.

The company previously admitted that employees listen to recordings to improve speech recognition technology.

David Monsees, product manager for Google Search, said in 2019: "As part of our work to develop speech technology for more languages, we partner with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a specific language.

"These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages.

“This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to create products like the Google Assistant."

The Daily Star has approached Google for comment.

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