Google restarts human audio reviews of Assistant recordings with new safeguards in place

By Michael Grothaus

Earlier this year virtually every tech company with a voice assistant was busted after it was found the contractors who reviewed recorded audio snippets from users had ways to identify who the audio recording came from. When the news of these privacy violations broke, most of the tech companies also announced they were pausing their human reviewer systems to put new privacy safeguards in place.

Today Google announced that it is resuming human audio reviews of Assistant recordings, but the company says it has new safeguards in place. Specifically, Google says that:

    By default, the company does not retain your audio recordings (they say this has always been the case).

    To store audio data, a user can opt in to the Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) setting when they set up Assistant. Opting in to VAA helps Assistant better recognize the user’s voice over time, but it also keeps a record of those interactions. Google says you can delete these interactions at any time.

    It is updating the settings so that when a user turns on VAA, they will be made aware that human reviewers may listen to their audio snippets.

    People who have previously opted in to VAA will be asked to review their confirmation, and until they do so Google will not share any of their voice recordings with human reviewers.

    This part is somewhat vague, but Google says going forward they are “adding greater security protections” to the human reviewing process so audio snippets are never associated with a specific account. This includes “an extra layer of privacy filters.”

    It will begin automatically deleting VAA audio data associated with accounts that are older than a few months.

If you stopped using Assistant in fear for your privacy, Google’s announcement today should alleviate some of your worries. Still, do keep in mind that the company learns a massive amount from you according to how you interact with Assistant. But that’s a trade-off we make for using most modern technological conveniences.


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