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Google won't listen to Assistant voice recordings in EU, but only for now

The pause on listening to voice recordings is just temporary while investigators assess the situation.
By
August 2, 2019
Photograph of Google Home Hub, Home Mini, and Home side by side

In early July, word leaked that Google employees and contractors listen in on your Google Assistant voice recordings. Google defended the practice as a necessity in a blog post while simultaneously calling out a contractor who “violated [the company’s] data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.”

However, it appears some regulators didn’t think Google’s explanation was satisfactory. In a recent statement, Germany’s data protection commissioner declared that the country is investigating Google’s monitoring policies. This has caused Google to temporarily pause all monitoring practices in the European Union while the German investigation proceeds.

As such, for the time being, your Google Assistant conversations in the EU won’t be monitored by human operators. The temporary stay will last for at least three months, but could be longer.

Outside the EU, though, it appears monitoring will continue. This means anything you say to your smartphone’s Assistant program or your Google Home products could potentially be heard by human Google employees.

In a statement to The Verge, Google explained its motivations while simultaneously downplaying the significance of its audio monitoring:

We are in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority and are assessing how we conduct audio reviews and help our users understand how data is used. These reviews help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages. We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2 percent of all clips.

Google isn’t alone with these policies: both Amazon and Apple monitor voice assistant conversations for Alexa and Siri respectively. Either by coincidence or by design, Apple also revealed today that it will stop letting contractors listen to Siri voice recordings.

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