Google Temporarily Stops Contractors from Listening to ‘Assistant’ Recordings

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
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Google says it has temporarily stopped its contractors from listening to Assistant audio recordings around the world. The move arrives shortly after the tech giant learned of a data leak from a media outlet in the Netherlands, which revealed that Google Assistant had been recording users without their prior knowledge.

Google has decided to temporarily stop contractors from listening to Google Assistant recordings after the company was made aware of a data leak from a Dutch media outlet that had released audio snippets, showing that users had been recorded by their devices unknowingly, according to a report by Business Insider.

The report adds that German authorities have ordered Google to stop its Assistant language review program for three months, but the company says it had already halted language reviews before being asked to do so by European officials.

“Shortly after we learned about the leaking of confidential Dutch audio data, we paused language reviews of the Assistant to investigate,” said a Google spokesperson, according to Business Insider. “This paused reviews globally.”

Google has said that its “language reviews” are meant for transcribing snippets of audio data for the purpose of working with “language experts around the world to improve speech technology,” which the tech giant says is “critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant.”

“The use of automatic speech assistants from providers such as Google, Apple and Amazon is proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected,” read a Thursday report from the Hamburg Commissioner. “[The ban] is intended to provisionally protect the rights of privacy of data subjects for the time being.”

At least 153 Google Assistant audio snippets were recorded unbeknownst to the user, according to the Dutch media outlet that had obtained the recordings.

A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that a user being recorded without their knowledge is rare, and that these types of recordings are instances of “false accepts,” meaning that Google Assistant was triggered to record without a clear command from the user.

Google says it is “conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.

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