Google admits workers listen to private audio recordings from Google Home smart speakers

Google employees listen to customers’ audio recordings on Google Home smart speakers, the technology giant has admitted. Language experts are employed to analyse “snippets” of recordings made by users, which Google claims helps improve its voice recognition technology. This is then used to develop the Google Assistant artificial intelligence system, which is used in its Google Home smart speakers and Android smartphones.

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The assistant understands and responds to voice commands given to it, answering queries about the news and weather as well as being able to control other internet-connected devices around the home.

In a statement, the company said a small number of anonymous recordings were transcribed by its experts, and revealed that an investigation had been launched after some Dutch audio data had been leaked.

“We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant,” Google said.

“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.”

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Shape Created with Sketch. Gadgets and tech news in pictures

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A man looks at an exhibit entitled 'Mimus' a giant industrial robot which has been reprogrammed to interact with humans during a photocall at the new Design Museum in South Kensington, London

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A new Israeli Da-Vinci unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured by Elbit Systems is displayed during the 4th International conference on Home Land Security and Cyber in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv

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A humanoid robot gestures during a demo at a stall in the Indian Machine Tools Expo, IMTEX/Tooltech 2017 held in Bangalore

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A humanoid robot gestures during a demo at a stall in the Indian Machine Tools Expo, IMTEX/Tooltech 2017 held in Bangalore

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Engineers test a four-metre-tall humanoid manned robot dubbed Method-2 in a lab of the Hankook Mirae Technology in Gunpo, south of Seoul, South Korea

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty

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Engineers test a four-metre-tall humanoid manned robot dubbed Method-2 in a lab of the Hankook Mirae Technology in Gunpo, south of Seoul, South Korea

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty

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The giant human-like robot bears a striking resemblance to the military robots starring in the movie 'Avatar' and is claimed as a world first by its creators from a South Korean robotic company

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty

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Engineers test a four-metre-tall humanoid manned robot dubbed Method-2 in a lab of the Hankook Mirae Technology in Gunpo, south of Seoul, South Korea

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty

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Waseda University's saxophonist robot WAS-5, developed by professor Atsuo Takanishi

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15/26

Waseda University's saxophonist robot WAS-5, developed by professor Atsuo Takanishi and Kaptain Rock playing one string light saber guitar perform jam session

Rex

16/26

A test line of a new energy suspension railway resembling the giant panda is seen in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Reuters

17/26

A test line of a new energy suspension railway, resembling a giant panda, is seen in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Reuters

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A concept car by Trumpchi from GAC Group is shown at the International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou, China

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A Mirai fuel cell vehicle by Toyota is displayed at the International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou, China

Reuters

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A visitor tries a Nissan VR experience at the International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou, China

Reuters

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A man looks at an exhibit entitled 'Mimus' a giant industrial robot which has been reprogrammed to interact with humans during a photocall at the new Design Museum in South Kensington, London

22/26

A new Israeli Da-Vinci unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured by Elbit Systems is displayed during the 4th International conference on Home Land Security and Cyber in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv

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Electrification Guru Dr. Wolfgang Ziebart talks about the electric Jaguar I-PACE concept SUV before it was unveiled before the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, U.S

Reuters

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AP

25/26

Japan's On-Art Corp's CEO Kazuya Kanemaru poses with his company's eight metre tall dinosaur-shaped mechanical suit robot 'TRX03' and other robots during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan

Reuters

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Singulato Motors co-founder and CEO Shen Haiyin poses in his company's concept car Tigercar P0 at a workshop in Beijing, China

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The statement continued: “We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.

“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action.

“We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

Earlier this year, a report from Bloomberg revealed fellow tech giant Amazon also listens to some recordings of customer interactions with its voice-based assistant Alexa.
Amazon confirmed the process and said it did so with a small number of recordings in order to help train the artificial intelligence’s responses. The firm said users are also able to review and delete recordings linked to their account via the Alexa companion app.

On Monday, the NHS announced a new partnership with Amazon that will see verified health information based on the NHS website provided via Alexa.

Privacy campaigners claimed it was a “data protection disaster waiting to happen, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS needed to embrace technology.

Additional reporting from agencies.

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