Are Users' Conversations With Smart Devices Kept Private?

Harin - Jul 14, 2019


Are Users' Conversations With Smart Devices Kept Private?

While virtual assistants become smarter every day, little do people know that their conversations with smart devices might not be as private as they think.

Artificial intelligence has been used widely on a number of virtual assistants which let users control their devices with their voices. Today, gadgets like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa can understand humans better. They can listen to users’ command, take notes as well as organizing appointments. However, little do people know that their conversations with smart devices might not be as private as they think.

A third-party is said to be involved in this matter. Google reportedly sends smart devices’ audio clips without users’ consent and pays its contractors for the transcriptions of these conversations to improve its AI voice recognition tech.

Normally, whenever Google Home and Alexa Assistant hear the word like “Okay Google”, they will start recording. However, a report from VRT NWS suggests that sometimes these devices can be accidentally activated and transfer personal data like name, addresses, and contact numbers to Google staff.

Amazon-Alexa
Whenever Google and Alexa Assistant hear the word like “Okay Google”, they will start recording.

The story posted by the publication was focusing on Flemish and Dutch Google Assistants users. The broadcaster reviewed 1000 audio clips. Among them, 150 were unintentionally recorded. According to a Google worker, every week, he transcribes around 1000 Google Assistant’s audio clips.

While most of the clips included users’ commands for pornographic videos and weather information, some were phone calls or private info.

Google-Home
According to a Google worker, every week, he transcribes around 1000 Google Assistant’s audio clips.

Tech companies often emphasize the importance of transcription in helping them improve their automated speech-processing tech. They state that just the recordings shared with transcriber account for a small percentage. For example, Google Home, in its privacy policy, doesn’t even mention using human contractors since to consumers, that would look creepy. There is no disclaimer about a possibility that users can be accidentally recorded by the device either.

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