Google Hit With New Privacy Suit Over Voice Recordings

A group of California residents has sued Google over allegations that the tech giant violates state law by recording their conversations without consent.

“California law prohibits the recording of oral communications without the consent of all parties,” Asif Kumandan, Melissa Spurr and Spurr's minor child, identified only as “B.S.,” allege in a class-action complaint filed late last week in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

“California’s privacy laws recognize the unique privacy interest implicated by the recording of someone’s voice,” lawyers for Kumandan and the others write. “That privacy interest has been heightened by companies exploiting consumers’ private data.”

Kumandan alleges he owns a Google Pixel smartphone with Google Assistant installed, while Spurr says she owns a Google Home device. They allege the company's smartphone and smart speakers have recorded their conversations “on multiple occasions, including when they failed to utter a hot word.”

They claim Google violates several California statutes, including the state wiretap law.

Their complaint comes several weeks after the Dutch radio broadcaster VRT reported Google Home smart speakers and Google Assistant were transmitting consumers' conversations to Google, even when people hadn't first given the “Hey, Google,” or “OK, Google,” commands. (Those “hot word” commands signal an intention to interact with the devices.)

VRT also reported Google sometimes sends portions of users' conversations to outside contractors who are tasked with analyzing language patterns. The publication said it had listened to more than 1,000 excerpts of conversations -- including 153 where participants hadn't given the “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google” command. An outside contractor shared the voice snippets with the newspaper, in apparent violation of Google's policies.

Kumandan and the others are seeking monetary damages and an injunction requiring Google to refrain from recording people without their consent.

The lawsuit is at least the second one this month over Google's alleged recording practices.

Three Illinois residents alleged in a complaint filed in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court that Google's collection and retention of voiceprints violates a state biometric privacy law. That statute requires companies to obtain people's written consent before collecting biometric data like fingerprints, retinal scans and voiceprints.

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