Google Assistant

Google Admits to Indian Government That Assistant Records Your Audio Secretly

Assistant, Google

Google has reportedly admitted that the Google Assistant records audio even when it’s not triggered by the “Ok Google” keywords. According to IndiaToday, Google representatives have apparently told a government panel in India that its employees listen to recordings of conversations between users and the Google Assistant.

While Google has accepted some part of this in the past as well, this is the first time the company has admitted that its AI assistant sometimes records audio on smartphones or smart speakers even when it is not summoned by the user.

Google claims that its employees listen to recordings of what users say to the assistant to improve its speech recognition technology for different languages. The tech giant also says that only a fraction of the audio is accessible to its employees and that they do not listen to sensitive conversations.

However, there’s no information about how Google distinguishes between sensitive and general conversations. In 2019, one of Google’s language reviewers had leaked confidential audio data to a Belgian news outlet.

Google also did not explain why it records audio when it is not triggered by voice command. Other digital assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, only record audio when they hear the trigger words. The company’s privacy policy states that  “Occasionally, the Assistant will activate when you didn’t intend it to because it incorrectly detected that you wanted its help (like by a noise that sounds like “Hey, Google”). If that happens, just say Hey Google, that wasn’t for you, and the Assistant will delete the last thing it sent to Google.”

Google has not clearly stated what it referred to, were accidental recordings or were audio recordings even when it is not triggered. If it is the latter, that opens up a slew of privacy issues on Google’s end.

Commenting on the matter, a member of the Indian panel investigating Google said, “In its terms and conditions, Google states clearly that audio recordings between users and their Google smart speakers and Google Assistant devices are recorded and stored. But the terms do not mention that its employees can listen to excerpts from these recordings. Also, Google, in its privacy policy, says that it will share personal information outside of Google when it has users’ consent. This is a serious breach of user privacy.”

Another senior official from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said, “The government is looking into the issue of companies like Google not deleting the stored data as a rule and keeping the transcripts until a user manually deletes the information.”