Google is investigating the source of voice data leak, plans to update its privacy policies – TechCrunchJuly 11, 2019
Google has responded to a report this week from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, which revealed that contractors were given access to Google Assistant voice recordings, including those which contained sensitive information — like addresses, conversations between parents and children, business calls, and others containing all sorts of private information. As a result of the report, Google says it’s now preparing to investigate and take action against the contractor who leaked this information to the news outlet.
The company, by way of a blog post, explained that it partners with language experts around the world who review and transcribe a “small set of queries” to help Google better understand various languages.
Only around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets are reviewed by language experts, and these snippets are not associated with Google accounts during the review process, the company says. Other background conversations or noises are not supposed to be transcribed.
The leaker had listened to over 1,000 recordings, and found 153 were accidental in nature — meaning, it was clear the user hadn’t intended to ask for Google’s help. In addition, the report found that determining a user’s identity was often possible because the recordings themselves would reveal personal details. Some of the recordings contained highly sensitive information, like “bedroom conversations,” medical inquiries, or people in what appeared to be domestic violence situations, to name a few.
Google defended the transcription process as being a necessary part of providing voice assistant technologies to its international users.
But instead of focusing on its lack of transparency with consumers over who’s really listening to their voice data, Google says it’s going after the leaker themselves.
“[Transcription] is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant,” writes David Monsees, Product Manager for Search at Google, in the blog post. “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,” he said.
As voice assistant devices are becoming a more common part of consumers’ everyday lives, there’s increased scrutiny on how tech companies are handline the voice recordings, who’s listening on the other end, what records are being stored, and for how long, among other things.
This is not an issue that only Google is facing.
Earlier this month, Amazon responded to a U.S. senator’s inquiry over how it was handling consumers’ voice records. The inquiry had followed a CNET investigation which discovered Alexa recordings were kept unless…