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Google will pause listening to EU voice recordings while regulators investigate

Google will pause listening to EU voice recordings while regulators investigate

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Germany’s data protection commissioner is investigating

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Google has agreed to stop listening in and transcribing Google Assistant recordings for three months in Europe, according to German regulators.

German regulator calls voice assistants “highly risky”

In a statement released today, Germany’s data protection commissioner said the country was investigating after reports that contractors listen to audio captured by Google’s AI-powered Assistant to improve speech recognition. In the process, according to the reports, contractors found themselves listening to conversations accidentally recorded by products like the Google Home.

“The use of automatic speech assistants from providers such as Google, Apple and Amazon is proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected,” the German commissioner’s statement says, pointing to privacy concerns not only for device owners, but for visitors to homes with those devices. Google, according to the statement, will stop the practice of listening to and transcribing recordings for at least three months across the European Union, as the regulator looks into the issue.

A Google spokesperson said it had itself moved to pause “language reviews” while it investigated recent media leaks.

“We are in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority and are assessing how we conduct audio reviews and help our users understand how data is used,” the spokesperson said. “These reviews help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages. We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2% of all clips.”

The controversy over contractors has extended to other companies, as recent reports have highlighted how Apple and Amazon workers also listen to recordings to improve Siri and Alexa. In the statement, the German regulator writes that other speech assistant providers, including Apple and Amazon, are “invited” to “swiftly review” their policies.

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