Last month privacy concerns surfaced after it was found that actual humans — and not mere machines — were hearing select recordings that Google Assistant made intentionally, after a user invoked it by saying “OK Google”, as well as unintentionally. Now, the company is trying to allay the privacy fears. Google, in a blog post, has detailed the changes it will be making to its platform in the coming months. The company says that it will require explicit permission from users before it records any audio from them.
Separately, a senior Google executive told India Today Tech that the company was working on a mechanism that would let the Google Assistant automatically delete recordings that were made inadvertently or the ones that have just the background noise.
“We have spent a lot of time on this (accidental recordings). The team is working on and exploring if there is a technical way that recognises when something is not intended for the Assistant and automatically deletes it. We already have some filters that do that but like most technologies they are not completely perfect,” Manuel Bronstein, Vice President of Product, Google Assistant, told India Today Tech in New Delhi.
Bronstein was in Delhi for the Google For India event in which the company announced additional features for Google Assistant.
Google, last month, halted its human review program after a report back in July pointed out that a Google contractor had leaked 1,000 audio snippets of conversations between the Google Assistant and the users residing in the Netherlands and Belgium to VRT NWS. Now, Google has announced through a blog post that it will be making changes to its audio data retention policies in the coming months.
The company also re-affirmed that it does not retain audio recordings by default. “By default, we don’t retain your audio recordings. This has been the case, and will remain unchanged,” Senior Product Manager, Google Assistant, Nino Tasca wrote in the blog post.
The company said that users “can opt in to the Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) setting” when they set up Google Assistant. Opting in this setting enables the company to review snippets of users’ communication with Google Assistant, which is then used to improve its responses and understanding. “You can view your past interactions with the Assistant, and delete any of these interactions at any time,” Tasca wrote.
Apart from this, Google also that it was updating its audio setting. All Google Assistant users will now be asked to review their VAA settings and confirm their preference before their the human review process begins. “We won’t include your audio in the human review process unless you’ve re-confirmed your VAA setting as on,” Google said.
In addition to this, Google said that it would introduce a new setting in the coming months that would allow users to adjust “how sensitive your Google Assistant devices are to wake words like ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Ok Google'”. This would avoid accidental activation of Google’s virtual assistant.