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On July 7th, we reported on how Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant was recording conversations and in some cases storing them indefinitely. Now, Google have followed up with similar revelations about their own Google Home devices, which are powered by the Google Assistant.

According to a Belgian news website, VRT NWS, one of Google’s employees reportedly leaked information about the privacy concern. Google have since responded by saying that they do indeed give their employees access to certain audio recordings captured by their army of smart speakers. These recordings are supposedly used to improve the voice-activated software, being analysed by speech experts who study them closely.

However, in some cases these recordings were captured even when the user hadn’t intentionally activated their Google Assistant. According to the Belgian news outlet, which looked at over 1,000 recording snippets that were leaked by the employee in question, there were 153 recordings present that were not taken following the Google device’s wake words – ‘Hey Google’ or ‘OK Google’.

These audio captures ranged from the inane to the more personal and sensitive subjects. Some included parents and children speaking, whereas others captured arguements. Some of the more serious captures included a man searching for pornography, and a woman ‘in distress’.

‘We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant (…) We just learned that one of these reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.’

Google, 2019

Though it’s not obvious how these recordings were gathered in the first place, the news outlet does point out that the speakers can often wake up unintentionally. This is usually when a user has accidentally pressed one of the physical buttons on the device or the device has mistaken unrelated speech for a ‘wake word’. Indeed, we have seen examples of our own speakers waking up from time to time during irrelevant conversations.

If you notice your Google speaker behaving in a weird way, such as waking up when you haven’t intentionally spoken a wake word, then you can check what exactly prompted the response.

  • Download the Google Home application on your phone;
  • Ensuring that your smart devices are linked, tap on your user icon in the top-right of the screen;
  • Scroll down to ‘My activity’ and tap here;
  • You should see a list of all Assistant activity, including recently spoken phrases.

In this menu, you can also delete your previous history and activity. But for anything else relating to smart speakers, or for online or device-related security advice, you can get in touch with WiseGuys on 0808 123 2820.