Google Stops Human Review of Assistant Voice Clips in EU

Google is pausing Google Assistant voice transcriptions in the European Union for at least three months. In mid-July, it admitted that about 1,000 private communications were made available to human contractors evaluating Assistant’s speech recognition accuracy, revealing personal and private information. A Google spokesperson reported that the company ceased voice transcription involving human moderators after learning of additional leaks in the Netherlands. Amazon will allow Alexa users to opt out of the human review of recordings and Apple has halted its program allowing human contractors to listen in on Siri recordings.

CNBC reports the Google spokesperson added that transcriptions only account for 0.2 percent of all voice clips and “help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages.” Hamburg, Germany’s commissioner for data protection Johannes Caspar said that there are “currently significant doubts” about whether Google Assistant “complies with EU data-protection law.”

Earlier this week, we reported that “Apple will no longer allow human contractors to listen in on users’ Siri recordings to ‘grade’ them, and will not resume the program until it has completed a ‘thorough review.’ The company also stated that, as part of a future update, users will be able to opt out of the quality assurance program.”

In addition, Bloomberg reports that, as of last Friday, Amazon now allows Alexa users opt out of such human review of recordings, via an “option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app.” “Thousands of workers around the world” listen to and transcribe voice recordings and some “had access to certain personal data, including users’ first names and their location.” Apple’s Siri and Alphabet’s Google Assistant had “similar human review,” and both companies have ceased this practice. “Amazon declined to comment on whether the company had been contacted by regulators about its program.”

The human review practice “wasn’t previously disclosed in [Amazon Alexa’s] product’s terms and conditions,” but that has changed. Now, a user that taps “Settings,” “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” will see the following: “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”

Google and Amazon Put Brakes on Human Review of Voice Assistant Recordings, Mac Rumors, 8/5/19
Voice Assistants Are Listening to You: How to Delete Siri, Alexa and Google Recordings, USA Today, 8/5/19
Google Ordered to Halt Human Review of Voice AI Recordings Over Privacy Risks, TechCrunch, 8/2/19

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