European data protection commissioner orders Google to stop listening to users voice recordings

The group ordered Google to stop immediately while it investigates.

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Many have blindly believed that huge tech giants do not listen to our talks and allow us to keep our privacy to ourselves. However, the discussion surrounding the extent to which our conversations are being recorded by devices like Amazon Echo and Android Smartphones is louder than ever.

A new development in this debate happened this week in Germany where local regulators asked Google to stop listening and transcribing recordings made by devices using Google Assistant.

One of the key reasons why the decision to contact Google was made is that Germany’s Data Protection Commission received multiple reports saying that contractors working on developing upgrades to the speech recognition system could listen to recorded conversations of users of Google products.

As the statement of Germany’s Data Protection Commissioner points out, “the use of automatic speech assistants…is proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected”. It is hard to argue with this sentiment since the vast majority of speech recognition services record tiny bits of audio and activate whenever a certain combination of words is recognized. However, the speech recognition software operates remotely and has dedicated servers running the recognition algorithm.

The commissioner ordered Google to stop listening and transcribing recordings for at least three months in the territory of the European Union. During this period, the regulatory body will be investigating practices of reviewing voice recording employed by Google engineers in the development process.

Google responded to inquiries from media outlets telling that the company is “in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority” and want to make the whole process as transparent as possible. As stated by the Google spokesperson, the company uses only 0.2% of all audio clips in manual reviews without associating them with accounts or any other forms of personal information.

Recently, it was revealed that employees working on Siri and Alexa also manually review some of the recordings in efforts to improve their software. The German data protection commission invited both Amazon and Apple to join the conversation and review their policies instead of voice recordings of their customers.

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