Google pays people to listen to user conversations with Google Assistant
According to the company, “language experts” analyze audio recordings of conversations in order to improve speech recognition.
Google pays contractors for listening and decoding what users say to Google Assistant voice assistant. The first to report this was the Belgian television and radio company VRT, and then the news was picked up by the media around the world.
VRT journalist Tim Verheyden managed to get more than a thousand audio files from an unnamed Google contractor with user conversations recorded via smart speakers, telephones and surveillance cameras. Most of them are questions asked by the voice assistant (about the weather forecast, films, etc.). However, about 150 entries were made when Google Assistant was activated by chance, for example, during a telephone conversation or a personal conversation. Among such files were recordings of discussions of love relationships, family issues, etc.
As explained by Google, some passages of voice requests are transcribed in order to improve speech recognition. Nevertheless, the fact that Google Assistant records private conversations, and even by chance, causes great concern among both users and security experts.
Verheyden began his investigation after reports that Amazon is using contractors to analyze audio recordings of user requests to the Alexa voice assistant. According to the interlocutor of the journalist, he deciphers about a thousand audio recordings a week in Dutch and Flemish, and is very concerned about what he has heard.
The contractor also showed Verheiden a special Google application called Crowdsource, through which he gains access to audio records for decryption. In some cases, the contractors come across audio recordings of apparent violence, but they have no instructions on what to do in such cases.
In response to a VRT report, Google representatives commenced an investigation into the contractor for violating the confidentiality agreement. According to them, “language experts from all over the world” are engaged in decoding audio recordings made by a voice assistant, but they are given no more than 0.2% of all audio files that are not associated with user accounts for analysis.