Google has been forced by German authorities to temporarily stop listening in and transcribing Google Assistant recordings for three months in Europe, according to German regulators.
In a statement released today, Germany’s data protection commissioner said the country was investigating after reports that contractors listen to audio captured by Google’s AI-powered Assistant to improve speech recognition. In the process, according to the reports, contractors found themselves listening to conversations accidentally recorded by-products like the Google Home.
Under Article 66 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Hamburg data protection authority began an “urgency procedure” last month. The result is ordering Google to stop what it’s doing when it comes to human review.
“The use of automatic speech assistants from providers such as Google, Apple and Amazon are proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected,” the German commissioner’s statement says, pointing to privacy concerns not only for device owners but for visitors to homes with those devices. Google, according to the statement, will stop the practice of listening to and transcribing recordings for at least three months across the European Union, as the regulator looks into the issue.
Earlier this month, Dutch-language conversations recorded by Google Assistant, the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered system for voice interactions, were leaked to Belgian broadcaster VRT.
Audio files included discussions of users’ love lives and children, as well as containing personal data like addresses. The Californian company suspects the leak came from a language expert who had been contracted to help improve voice recognition by comparing the recordings against the AI’s transcripts.
A Google spokesperson said it had itself moved to pause “language reviews” while it investigated recent media leaks.
“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,” the spokesperson said. “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% of all clips.”
The menace of privacy invasion is the next real endemic of contemporary society. Not only owners of the gadgets risk their private information reaching unwanted ears, but also “all those who come into contact with it like other members of the household or guests. Despite a strong regulatory framework, tech giants can bypass all security measures and snoop into one’s private space. A comprehensive deterrent strategy is needed to counter such an attempt along with digital literacy and awareness amongst masses.