A new report claims that Silicon Valley tech giant Google has been employing outside contractors to listen in on the voice recordings of its Google Assistant users without their knowledge.
Business Insider reports that tech giant Google has been revealed to be listening on users voice recordings according to an investigation by VRT News. VRT News claims that the tech company has hired independent contractors to listen in on and transcribe the audio recorded by the company’s Google Assistant product in order to improve the voice recognition elements of the technology.
A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that language experts are employed to transcribe “a small set of queries,” approximately 0.2 percent of audio snippets which are then used to develop the technology that allows Google Assistant to run. The data is used to help Google Assistant better understand other languages and accents, but giving contractors access to this sort of information raises privacy questions.
One contractor told VRT News that one recording that he had to process clearly showed a woman in need of assistance, but employees are not given guidelines on how to handle such cases. Google is reportedly taking action against the employee who shared the audio data with VRT News, with a spokesperson stating: “We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”
Google is set to appear before the House Antitrust Subcommittee alongside Amazon, Facebook, and Apple on July 16 for a hearing on “dominant platforms and innovation.” The tech representatives from the four companies include:
- Google’s Director of Economic Policy, Adam Cohen
- Amazon’s Associate General Counsel, Nate Sutton
- Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Development, Matt Perault
- Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer, Kyle Andeer
The subcommittee plans to “examine the impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to a release announcing the hearing. Other experts on the matter such as Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu will attend the hearing.