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Home / Tips and Tricks / Amazon and Google hear your voice recordings. Here's what we know about it

Amazon and Google hear your voice recordings. Here's what we know about it


The smart speakers Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Since Alexa and Google Assistant appeared for the first time, and people's homes are equipped with intelligent loudspeakers and other devices with constantly-listening microphones, people have wondered if anyone but the AI ​​they have chosen Assistant listening. [19659005] Well, the answer is yes – both Amazon and Google have admitted that they hire contractors to submit anonymized user audio clips ($ 175 at Walmart) listen to the purposes of improving the skills of each assistant.

Read more: Yes, the robot dog has eaten your privacy.

For some, this seemed to be an obvious assumption, but for many it was a wake-up call. Not only Amazon and Google, but all devices and services that require our data to function. What are these companies doing with our data? How do you protect it? Do you share something with third parties?

What Amazon and Google say

"We're just commenting on a very small sample of Alexa voice recordings to improve the customer experience," said an Amazon spokesperson told CNET in April . "This information, for example, helps us train our speech recognition and understanding systems so Alexa can better understand your needs and make sure the service works well for everyone."

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With Alexa or Google Assistant like this Lenovo Smart Clock equipped hearing aids look for a place in our homes in almost every country.

Chris Monroe / CNET

The spokesperson added that employees can not directly access identifying information about the persons or accounts associated with the records.

"All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multifactor authentication to restrict access and service encryption and audits our control environment to protect it," the spokesman said.

In the meantime, Google has come to grips with the complexity of building a fully functional, multilingual language assistant.

"As part of our effort to develop language technology for more languages, we work with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a particular language," said David Monsees, Product Manager for Google Search a blog post on Thursday. "These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to improve their understanding of these languages, which is a critical part of the process of creating language technologies and creating products like the Google Assistant."

Google adds that the audio samples that these contractors listen to make up about 0.2% of all recordings and that user account details are not linked to any of them.

"Auditors are instructed not to transcribe background conversations or other sounds and only to transcribe snippets directed to Google," Monsees said.

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0.2% – is that it?

Google's blog post specifically looks at audio that is reviewed by reviewers to help Google Assistant master a wide variety of languages, dialects, and accents. But is there other purposes for which Google or its contractors listen to user audio?

I asked exactly that question to a Google spokesperson, but I did not get an answer. Instead, the company reiterated that language experts review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets. It was not mentioned whether Google has other purposes to listen to user audio outside the information described in Monsees' blog post – details that Google just communicated after one of these linguists expounded on the Belgium-based VRT NWS over a thousand Records provided by people using Google Home Smart Speaker and the Google Assistant App.

I asked again: Does the language expert Monsees describe the only contractors or collaborators on Google who hear user audio? I have been referred to Google's Privacy Policy, which reads:

"We restrict access to personally identifiable information to Google employees, agents, and agents who need this information to process it, and any user with this access strict contractual secrecy and may be disciplined or terminated if they fail to comply with these obligations. "

Regarding Amazon, the Alexa FAQ page states:

" … we use your queries to Alexa to provide our voice recognition and to train the understanding of natural languages ​​The more data we use to train these systems, the better Alexa works, and training Alexa with voice recordings from various clients helps Alexa work well for everyone. "

The actual Percentage of audio recordings the company listens to and writes off is visible r low and is similar to Google.

"We comment on a fraction of one percent of interactions from a random set of customers to improve the customer Alexa experience," the spokesperson tells me.

Like Google, I've also asked if there are other cases outside of this where Amazon employees would listen to a user's audio recordings. Answer from Amazon: "No."

What about third parties? Will my voice data be shared?

Good question. Let's start with Google.

The company has a variety of different posts that address its privacy approach to various Google services. To find clear answers, a lot has to be worked through. In some cases, the text is confusing.

An instance appears on a Google Nest Services page that demonstrates the company's commitment to privacy – a separate page from Google's or Google Assistant's privacy policy. Google states that the guide is there to "explain as clearly and simply as possible how our connected home devices and services work and how we commit to respecting your privacy."

A few paragraphs later, The page reads:

"… we agree that we will separate your video footage, your audio recordings, and your sensor values ​​for the home environment from advertising for all of our connected home devices and services Use this data to personalize ads When you interact with your assistant, we can use those interactions to inform your interests about personalizing ads. "

Back to back, these sentences seem contradictory. Google does not use audio recordings to personalize ads. However, if you use the wizard, Google may use these interactions to "share your interests for personalizing ads." So what is it? Does using the Google Assistant affect your ads or not?

Shortly thereafter, the post refers to Google's general privacy policy for more details. Click through and scroll down. You'll see a section of ads that includes:

"We will not share information that personally identifies you with advertisers, such as your name or email address, unless you ask For example, if you see an ad near a flower shop and click on the "tap to call" button, we'll connect your call and maybe give your phone number to the florist. "

But what does that mean for Google Assistant? -Audioaufnahmen? If I ask where the nearest flower shop is, will I be added to an anonymous list of people who may be interested in purchasing flowers? Will this list ever be shared with an online bouquet delivery marketing company that would then be marketed to me?

"Although we use your interactions to inform your interests for personalizing ads, this scenario would not occur," says Google. "A third party could not send you a coupon because of your interaction with the wizard."

"We do not sell your personal information to anyone," adds the company. "This includes your wizard requests or interests derived from these requests from advertisers."

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Chris Monroe / CNET

A user with a question like mine may refer to the privacy section of the Google Nest support page, titled "Under certain circumstances, we may share information with third parties that appear in Google's privacy policy."

The problem is that Google's privacy policy is not really helpful with such device-specific questions. In fact, Google's privacy policy only includes the word "voice" once as an element in the list of "activity information" collected by Google (this is also the only part of the policy that mentions the word "audio"). In the meantime, the policy does not include the words "microphone", "http://www.cnet.com/" recordings "or" assistant ".

" User control is very important to us, "says Google. "You can always check your Google Settings to control the ads displayed, including completely disabling ad personalization."

What about Amazon?

"No audio recordings are being shared with third parties," a spokesperson tells me from Amazon. "If you use a third-party service through Alexa, we will share related information with that third party to provide the service. For example, if you interact with a third-party Alexa capability, we'll provide the content for your needs (but not "

As with Google, there's also a general privacy page for Alexa at Amazon that is subject to the Terms of Service for Alexa is short and just under 400 words long and mentions no cases in which an employee or contractor from Amazon would listen to your recordings, including nothing about whether or not Amazon passes on your data or records to third parties. 19659015] These are two of the most common privacy-related issues Alexa faces today: a post entitled "Alexa, Echo Devices, and Your Privacy" should cover them.

The same goes for the Alexa FAQ page from Apart from the fact that Amazon did not provide us with the same information in April, when and why contractors or M If you could listen to your Alexa audio, the FAQ will not provide clear answers to the type of Alexa data that Amazon may pass on to advertisers.

The only reference to advertising in the FAQs is the blanket statement, "We do not sell children's personal information for promotional or other purposes," as well as a link to Amazon's Privacy Policy.

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Language assistants provide usefulness and comfort, but are not without trade -offs.

Josh Miller / CNET

Alexa is rarely mentioned on Amazon's entire privacy page, except for a reference to "Alexa Internet" in a long paragraph that lists the types of data collected by Amazon. However, the site describes Amazon's approach to sharing information with third parties. This includes sharing information for the purpose of promotional offers.

"Sometimes we send offers to selected groups of Amazon.com customers on behalf of other companies, and if we do, we will not give that company your name and address." The page states:

An Amazon spokesperson explained in more detail how your use of Alexa can affect the ads you display and what controls you have over them.

"The experience with Alexa is similar to what you see on the Amazon website or Amazon app," the spokesman said. "For example, if you're shopping through Alexa Shopping, you can use this purchase to show personalized ads similar to what you would see when you shop through the site, and you can opt out of receiving personalized ads from Amazon at any time."

Shall I do this Throw things out of the window?

That seems exaggerated. I do not blame anyone who does not want to fill their house with cameras and microphones, but I also do not blame anyone willing to swap some of their data for a business that they feel comfortable with to create new comfort and benefits her life. It is almost impossible to navigate through today's age without doing such daily trades.

In the meantime, one should assume that anything you say to your digital assistant can very well be heard by someone else in the future. After all, these companies collect and store voice recordings and transcripts, partly indefinitely . That's not for your benefit, it's in their favor.

The real question with all this is whether your privacy is damaged or not. Personally, I have no problem with an Amazon or Google agent or contractor hearing an anonymized record of me saying "Turn off the dining room" to find out why the assistant thought I had "Turn Off the Dynamo." It's similar to the way a Sony employee checks my PlayStation usage after a game crash to find out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.

The difference is that my PS4 crashes when my video game crashes. asks for my permission to view the crash report. Amazon and Google argue that they do too – but it's a blanket permission that users blindly agree to if they accept the far-reaching user agreements when they first set up the device. In today's age, I would say that's not good enough. At least a clearer language in the app during setup, when, why, and how other people may need to listen to your audio would probably help many users feel better when they type in "accept".

Businesses like Amazon and Google should also be better able to describe their practices – not just in dense legal language deeply rooted in one of several different privacy statements, but in simple, easy-to-find terms that people can actually understand. Perhaps they fear that this will deter potential users from their platforms. If this is the case, the wake-up call may have been long overdue.

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