In April we reported that thousands of Amazon contractors have been eavesdropping on customers who own the company’s Alexa devices.
Now, thanks to a whistleblower, we find out that Google is doing it too via their Google Home smart speakers, despite repeatedly claiming that they don’t eavesdrop, according to Dutch broadcaster VRT – which notes that the recordings are happening whether or not the speakers are activated.
VRT NWS was able to listen to more than a thousand excerpts recorded via Google Assistant. In these recordings we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings. –VRT
“This is undeniably my own voice,” said one man tracked down by VRT based on recordings obtained by the outlet. Another couple from Waasmunster, Belgium said they immediately recognized the voices of their son and grandchild. The recordings include conversations and quarrels between people, confidential business calls, conversations with children and ‘bedroom activities.‘
Speech recognition automatically generates a script of the recordings. Employees then have to double check to describe the excerpt as accurately as possible: is it a woman’s voice, a man’s voice or a child? What do they say? They write out every cough and every audible comma. These descriptions are constantly improving Google’s search engines, which results in better reactions to commands. One of our sources explains how this works.
Most recordings made via Google Home smart speakers are very clear. Recordings made with Google Assistant, the smartphone app, are of telephone quality. But the sound is not distorted in any way. –VRT
Sex and violence
According to more than a thousand sound clips reviewed by VRT, 153 of them included conversations which should have never been recorded due to a clear lack of an activation command. Many of those include sex and violence according to the outlet’s sources.
One of our three independent sources says he had to describe a recording where he heard a woman who was in definite distress.