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Google admits that its staff can listen to recordings on Google Assistant after data leak

Google on Thursday admitted that its staff can listen to what people say to artificial-intelligence system Google Assistant, via their phone or through smart speakers such as Google Home, AP reported. Some Dutch audio snippets on Google Assistant were leaked, prompting the company to write a blog post.

More than 1,000 recordings were obtained by Belgian public broadcaster VRT. The broadcaster said some of the audio snippets contained sensitive information, while others identified the person speaking.

“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,” Google said. “These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages.”

“We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data,” the search engine said. “We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

Google said it uses a wide range of safeguards to ensure user privacy. “Language experts only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets,” the search engine said. Google added that audio snippets are not associated with user accounts, and reviewers are directed not to transcribe background conversations.

“We hold ourselves to high standards of privacy and security in product development, and hold our partners to these same standards,” Google said. “We also provide you with tools to manage and control the data stored in your account. You can turn off storing audio data to your Google account completely, or choose to auto-delete data after every 3 months or 18 months.”

Google’s terms don’t mention that people review the recordings, but do state that data could be analysed as the company updates services or create new features, according to AP. The recording feature can be turned off, but doing so means Google Assistant loses some of its personalised touch.

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