AdvertisementGoogle fired back on Friday with a blog post that frames the leak as a security breach. The company explained the review process as something that’s necessary for its products to work well in multiple languages, though the same review process exists for Assistant recordings in English. Inevitably, the blog reads like a scolding:
We just learned that one of these language 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.
It also goes on to confirm that “around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets” get sent to human reviewers. That seems like a small number until you remember there are 1 billion devices that can query Google Assistant.What’s most concerning about this glimpse into what makes Google Assistant work, however, is the simple fact that many recordings happen by accident. Google Assistant and other voice assistants are supposed to start recording only after the user says a wake word or phrase, like “Hey Google.” However, the Belgian news report says, “VRT NWS listened to more than a thousand excerpts, 153 of which were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘Okay Google’ was clearly not given.” That means maybe 10 percent of what Google is recording is stuff it’s not supposed to record.
AdvertisementSo it’s unclear what happens next. Perhaps some people will be a little bit more cautious around their Google Home or their Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod, all of which amount to wiretapping devices according to some privacy experts. This analogy does make more and more sense as we learn about how these devices work. A Google Home does have microphones that are on by default and that, sometimes, record audio without your explicit consent. And then those recordings get sent to a subcontractor who might just get an itch to leak the recordings to the press. That has now happened.Another possible outcome, of course, is that you just throw your Google Home or your Amazon Echo or your Apple HomePod into the ocean , scream at the clouds, and cry into the sand. Maybe this future isn’t the one you wanted or hoped for, but it’s the one you have to live in.