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Google employees eavesdrop on your conversations with the Google Assistant

What you need to know

  • A report published by Belgian broadcaster, VRT NWS, has claimed Google employees systematically listen to audio recordings by the company's Google Home smart speakers and the Google Assistant app.
  • Google allegedly uses human contractors to transcribe the audio clips recorded by it to help make its speech recognition technology more accurate.
  • More worryingly, the report alleges Google sometimes starts recording audio by accident, even without a clear 'Okay Google' command.

A report from Bloomberg had revealed earlier this year that Amazon uses human workers to review audio clips recorded by Alexa without the knowledge of the company's customers. Now, a new report published by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS claims Google employees listen to conversations recorded by Google Home devices as well as the Google Assistant app.

VRT NWS managed to gain access to more than a thousand audio excerpts recorded by Google Assistant in Belgium and the Netherlands. The report claims sensitive information such as addresses were clearly heard in some of the recordings, which allowed them to get in touch with the people involved and make them listen to their own voices. Out of the thousand or so recordings reviewed by VRT NWS, 153 were apparently recorded accidentally. Some of these recordings contained highly sensitive and private information.

One of the independent sources who spoke to the publication said he once had to transcribe a recording where he could hear a woman who was in definite distress. He added that there are no clear guidelines provided regarding such cases. Even though Google disconnects excerpts from the user's information and deletes the user name, it is still possible to recover the identity of the user simply by listening to the except carefully.

Google has responded to the report by saying that its language experts worldwide transcribe only about 0.2% of all audio fragments, which are not linked to any personal or identifiable information.

Babu Mohan
Babu Mohan
39 Comments
  • But but but Huawei are the spies?
  • Yeah, but they're not OUR spies!
  • That's what makes it even worse
  • America is worse than a communist government? I think not
  • If you step out of your own bubble for a second you might learn something. International polls say the US government is the biggest threat to world peace. Noam Chompsky says the US military's drone program is the biggest purveyor of terrorism in the world. China isn't innocent but we should all agree that both governments are terrible.
  • Lost me at "International polls" 🤣🤣🤣
  • The polling I'm referring to was done by an american company that polled people from all over the world. But that's exactly my point...step out of your own perspective for one second. The rest of the world views the US government as the biggest threat. That should be a wake up call to Americans who still support what the government is doing when it comes to foreign policy. I am an American btw.
  • The problem with looking people all over the world about America is the only thing they really know is what they hear in the media. And 90% of the media is biased against what America does. Even American media.
  • Exacly tx_tuff. Do you think those non-american people are going to point the finger at their own governments? No, they are going to point it elsewhere.
  • I expect if they point at their own governments, many will get it chopped off.
  • According to opinions from randos from around the world. Well, that's all the evidence I need. Case closed.
  • All these responses denouncing poll results because it's from people in other countries. "They are from another country so their opinions don't matter." You do realize you are proving my point LOL. On second though, no, you probably don't realize that because it requires logic. I mentioned 2 things that suggest the US gov is not as benevolent as some people on here seem to think but there are countless more examples. Even just a cursory knowledge of recent world history is all you need to know that the US gov is just as bad if not worse than the Chinese gov. But go on keep burying your head in the sand. 'Murica is #1 after all, right?
  • "'Murica is #1 after all, right?" Yup, that's right!
  • Lost me at Noam Chomsky...
  • The rest of the world is open for business if you would care to go live under a "moral" government.
  • What a weak strawman argument. I'm not defending any governments. The whole thread deteriorated because of people defending US actions while bashing China. I was simply pointing out that those in glass houses should not throw bricks.
  • I never understood that analogy. Even if my house is made of glass do you know any house without a window or door. I could easily throw a brick through one of these and do no damage to my house...ijs
  • I lived in China for nearly a decade. I happen to be Chinese. That's the problem with assumptions made... because internet. What bubble are you referring to again? 🤔
  • Spies here can easily be held accountable by law.. Chinese spies are encouraged by their government and our laws are ignored and hard to enforce there similar to the unchecked IP infringement in China.. yea it's like the IP infringement situation but way worse..
  • All spies are "encouraged" by their government, that's literally how spying works lol. Do you think American spies are instructed to respect the laws of the nation they're spying on?
  • Damn -That's funny now -
  • This just in water is wet
  • Water isn't wet...it makes things it comes in contact with wet.
  • That's actually 100% accurate. One of my own favourite "um, actually..." Nerd facts lol.
  • Fear mongering articles always get so many clicks guys. Let's take benign information and spin it to be as scary as possible. That ad rev broooooo!
  • I mean... Yeah... Why do you think Google's voice recognition is so (comparatively) good? Magic? As long as they genuinely only listen after the "ok/hey Google" there's no issue and no story.
  • The world's best information gathering agency - Google -
  • That's the thing, apparently they're listening beyond the scope of the agreed terms. That's a story.
  • Nothing wrong with this. People have nothing to hide, and they get free services in return.
  • While the thought of someone listening to something I said seems weird, I understand if its to correct behavior, such as when it thinks I said "Hey/Ok Google" when I really did not. How else do you troubleshoot that from happening but to train it better to not trigger when I said whatever it is that was said? Also, if I choose to have one of these in my home, I have to know that what could be said might be heard by someone. Otherwise, don't have open mics in your home if it troubles you enough. Nothing is ever free and convenience will come with some cost.
  • This line of thinking is how we end up in the surveillance state we live in today...
  • No. You using surveillance devices everywhere, with your permission, is how we end up in a surveillance state. But hey...Google Assistant is awesome! #amIright
  • You must have missed the part where it is reported to record your conversations without your permission, by accident, without being prompted or asked.
  • The whole I have nothing to hide therefore personal privacy is not an issue is a very tired, logically flawed argument.
  • Nothing wrong with this??? They literally leaked people's private conversations to the outside world
  • Amazon was doing this too. For the technology to improve, this is a necessary evil. Nobody should be surprised by this either. Don't like it, disable it.
  • Don't be surprised!
  • This is why I never use it.
  • I guess this is the only way to improve it. Unfortunately.