According to recent surveys, more and more people are worried that using personal data-gathering virtual assistants may have negative effects on their privacy.
And between voice assistants offered by tech giants like Google, Amazon and Apple listening and recording their every word – and sending it to employees for “human review” – the vague terms of service and hidden opt-out features – users of these services are not wrong to be concerned.
It has now emerged that Google Assistant, installed on millions of devices, is not content with having access only to Google's native messaging apps. This artificial intelligence-powered program can now read texts on other, third-party apps as well – and reply to them, Android Police is reporting.
According to this, Google Assistant has radically expanded the scope of its access, because among those apps are Slack, Telegram, and WhatsApp. And, if Google's past behavior is anything to go by, the scope of potential privacy abuses has also widened dramatically.
Last month, it was reported that Google employees are “systematically” given access to audio recordings from Google Assistant and Google Home speakers. To make matters worse, the files include not only voice commands and queries “consciously” made by users – but also “conversations that should never have been recorded, some of which contain sensitive information.”
Similar revelations have been made about Apple's Siri and the associated “grading” process that allowed the company's employees to “review” audio recordings.
These giants have promised to “suspend” this activity in the wake of media reports – but there has not yet been a serious backlash against this type of service.
Users' lack of awareness that everything they say is recorded – and potentially reviewed by humans – might be one explanation for it, while trading privacy for convenience, as ever, is another.
With Google Assistant now reading and replying to messages from so many other apps installed on people's phones – it will be interesting to see how both Google and the third-party companies sell this change.
Meanwhile, the Android Police piece speculates about the length of time Google has had the new feature in place and provides a how-to for users – without raising any concerns about the possible privacy implications of Assistant's new powers.