Google has announced that it will implement changes in the way it stores user audio in the coming months. According to one official announcement, Voice and Audio Activities (VAA), which are interactions with Google's virtual assistant, will only be stored if you voluntarily choose to do so.
If you choose to turn on Voice & Audio Activities in your Google account settings, you may have short snippets of saved recordings heard by Google employees. According to the company, this serves to improve Assistant's artificial intelligence voice technologies.
According to Google, about 0.2% of user audios are subject to human auditors – only those who have allowed Voice and Audio Activities. The company also stated that these snippets are never associated with any account.
The announcement is an offshoot of the revelation that Google had hired subcontractors to listen to short snippets of user audio, unveiled on a Dutch TV in July.
Google has announced the suspension of the practice for 3 months while EU regulators are investigating the case.
According to Nino Tasca, Assistant Product Manager, who signs the announcement regarding the new policies, no audio will be included in the human review process before the user reconfirms the Audio and Voice Activity preferences in their own account settings.
"If you are already an Assistant user, you will have the option to review your VAA preferences and confirm this before the human review processes return," he said. It also states that it is possible to view and delete past interactions made with the Wizard.
'Ok, Google' more sensitive
Google has also announced that it will implement a way to adjust the sensitivity of the "Ok, Google" command. The intention is to give more control to reduce unintended activations of the virtual assistant.
According to Tasca, the company is also updating the policy to reduce the amount of data collected. "For those who have chosen VAA, we will automatically delete the vast majority of the oldest data associated with their account," he said.
This change will come into effect by the end of this year.
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Suspension of transcriptions
Google agreed to temporarily suspend transcriptions of voice-recordings made by the voice assistant in early August after the European Union announced that it would investigate the allegations.
The case came to light after a Dutch TV published a report showing how Google-hired partners listened to sensitive audios from Dutch users, recorded in interactions with the Assistant.
According to Tasca, in the statement on data policy news, the company "fell short of the highest standards in making it clear to users how data is used" and "apologizes."
Reporting in other companies
In addition to Google, other tech giants have also employed employees to listen to snippets of user audios. Microsoft, Facebook and Apple were also accused of maintaining the practice.
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In the case of Apple, the information was also revealed by a report by The Guardian. They were later confirmed by the company, which said it would suspend transcripts.
The case was especially controversial for Apple, as Apple uses the user privacy argument as part of marketing its products. Company executives, such as President Tim Cook, have publicly stated that they consider privacy "a fundamental human right."
Microsoft said it collects data from conversations with the virtual assistant to provide and improve voice-enabled services – such as search, voice commands, or translation services – but only when it obtains user authorization. Applications are for Skype and Cortana Assistant.
Facebook confirmed that it was transcribing user audio after reports from Bloomberg, and said it had abandoned the practice. "Like Apple and Google, we have interrupted the human review of audio," said a spokesman for the social networking site.