Google Says It’s Cutting Back on Audio Data Collection on Google Home Speakers

September 23, 2019, 11:54 PM UTC

After outcry from consumers and privacy advocates, Google announced Monday that it is making changes to its practice of transcribing audio from Google Assistant devices. According to the search giant, it is asking Google Home users to re-affirm their participation in the service’s Voice & Audio Activity setting. But Google says it’s also making it more clear that participating entails the possibility of other people listening to audio clips of Google Assistant interactions.

Alongside other tech companies, Google is responding to increased backlash against its data sharing and privacy practices. Google’s change in policy is just the latest example of how customers’ concerns are being taken more seriously in light of the growing tension.

“It’s clear that we fell short of our high standards in making it easy for you to understand how your data is used, and we apologize,” Google Assistant senior product manager Nico Tasca said in a statement.

Transcription of audio picked up from microphones on Google Assistant-enabled devices like the Google Home has been used to improve speech technology across different languages, the company says, making them more accurate. However, after reviewing its process, Google is making users more aware of how and what information is being used internally. It will also be reducing the amount of audio it collects by adding sensitivity settings to “reduce unintentional activations,” as well as deleting data that’s older than a few months, the company says.

Recent news reports have revealed that Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and even Apple—which is typically known for its emphasis on user privacy—have also been allowed for human review of its users’ audio files.

In August, Apple suspended its program and moved to an opt-in model that only utilizes Apple employees rather than third-party contractors. Facebook paused its program, and Amazon offered its Alexa users the choice to opt out of audio data collection.

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