Like Amazon, Google sends voice assistant recordings to contractors for transcription, including recordings made inadvertently

After Bloomberg revealed that Amazon secretly sent recordings from Alexa to subcontractors all over the world in order to improve its speech-recognition systems, a whistleblower leaked recordings from Google Home to investigative reporters from VRT, revealing that Google, too, was sending audio clips from its voice assistant technology to pieceworkers through the Crowdsource app.

The contractors who review Google voice assistant recordings say that they often screen audio from people who aren't even talking to their Google devices: instead, the devices mishear conversations and mistake sound for their "wake-words."

The whistleblower told VRT that he transcribes 1,000 recordings per week in Flemish and Dutch, and that once, he transcribed a recording that appeared to capture a domestic violence incident.

Tech policy researcher Michael Veale of London's Alan Turing Institute (who filed a complaint with the Irish data regulator over Apple's Siri) (Apple, like many tech giants, pretends that its business takes place in Ireland, a legacy of Ireland's willingness to assist multinationals with illegal tax-avoidance schemes) says that Google could also face GDPR jeopardy, particularly because it did not disclose its practice, which may be because the public would have found it "creepy."

Google says it is seeking redress from its subcontractors for sharing the secret recordings with journalists.

It is true that Google does not eavesdrop directly, but VRT NWS discovered that it is listening in. Or rather: that it lets people listen in. We let ordinary Flemish people hear some of their own recordings. 'This is undeniably my own voice', says one man, clearly surprised.

A couple from Waasmunster immediately recognise the voice of their son and their grandchild.

What did we do? 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.

Google employees are eavesdropping, even in Flemish living rooms, VRT NWS has discovered
[Lente Van Hee, Ruben Van Den Heuvel, Tim Verheyden and Denny Baert/VRT]

Who's Listening When You Talk to Your Google Assistant? [Tom Simonite/Wired]

(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)