Just a few weeks ago, a Belgian news service claimed Google was eavesdropping on users by listening to their private conversations. The company uses human employees to transcribe Assistant voice recordings to help it better understand what they're saying, and it turned out that one of these contractors leaked the material to the press. The controversy has led the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) to start a procedure prohibiting Google from continuing to manually audit these recordings.
Even though Google's intentions are to improve its voice recognition system, the fact that other people can listen to what you say to your smart speaker can lead to privacy concerns. Indeed, some recordings can occasionally contain sensitive data such as addresses, names, or phone numbers, which you wouldn't necessarily want strangers to hear. Also, Assistant can sometimes be triggered inadvertently, potentially causing the device to record private conversations.
According to the HmbBfDI, there are doubts on where Google is complying with GDPR obligations, which require users to give informed consent about the processing of the voice recordings. Based on these and with the intention to "provisionally protect the rights of privacy of data subjects for the time being," Google has agreed to halt these transcriptions in all of the EU for three months, starting today. This doesn't mean the company won't be able to continue doing so after November, but it will probably have to put some palliative measures in place before it can have employees listen to these recordings again.
- The Verge