Google, Promising Privacy, Asks Voice Assistant Users to Join Audio Review Program
Google announced in an email to users of any of its voice-powered services that it is restarting human reviews of audio recorded by its software, a year after pausing the program. This time, however, people will have to volunteer to potentially have their audio reviewed and Google is making the whole process more transparent as a way of encouraging people to sign up without arousing the the furor from last summer over the way Google Assistant and other voice assistants collect and study audio data.
As can be seen in the email, above, Google is keen to emphasize that users retain control of their audio information. It also repeats the link to where users can change their settings. There’s a YouTube video that lays out the way the program works overall, along with a more detailed explanation of the storage and usage system. Users who choose to opt-in to the program may have some of the audio recorded by Google Assistant or another Google voice app for two different improvement programs. At first, the data is linked to your account as a way to enhance the Voice Match feature that lets Google Assistant determine who is talking. Then, the audio will be broken down to remove anything that may identify the speaker and human reviewers will listen and compare the audio to the AI’s transcription to measure and improve its accuracy. The new system only applies to new audio,
One strange caveat to all this: although Google is turning the setting to save audio recordings for everyone, it’s not changing the policies for audio that has already been uploaded. If you want that deleted, you can go and do it yourself. If you don’t bother, however, Google tells me that humans won’t be reviewing any audio that was uploaded during the pause.
The new system is mostly about educating people on how voice assistant review programs work as a way to reduce the suspicions about voice data privacy that gave Google and its rivals headaches last year. The problem has not gone away for all of the voice assistant developers. Apple is dealing with a possible renewed investigation by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) over Siri after the initial whistleblower from last year unmasked himself to tell regulators he didn’t think Apple had followed through on its own privacy commitments.
As part of a strategy to avoid a similar accusation, Google added several new features in the months that followed to assuage concerns, including voice commands for checking and deleting Google Assistant recordings and hotword sensitivity controls to limit accidental awakenings. The email doesn’t represent additional changes in policy for voice data, but the real test will be how many people choose to join the program. Google is unlikely to reveal those numbers, but the more people it can convince to sign up, the better the review program will be at upgrading the voice app software.