Google To Refine Privacy Settings For Voice Assistant

Two months after it emerged that Google's voice assistant sent some users' private conversations to outside contractors, the company says it will change its privacy notifications to “highlight” its data-sharing policies.

“We’re updating our settings to highlight that when you turn on VAA (voice and audio activity), human reviewers may listen to your audio snippets to help improve speech technology,” the company says in a blog post. Google adds that it won't transmit audio to outside parties unless people have re-confirmed their setting.

The company also says it plans new measures to better filter out conversations that people didn't intend to transmit.

Google Assistant is only supposed to send audio to the company if it hears a command like, “Hey Google,” “OK, Google,” or if someone has physically activated the voice assistant.

But in the past, the tool has transmitted conversations even when people never gave that command. In some cases, background noise triggered the transmissions, Google said this summer.

“Soon we’ll also add a way to adjust how sensitive your Google Assistant devices are to prompts like 'Hey Google,' giving you more control to reduce unintentional activations, or if you’d prefer, make it easier for you to get help in especially noisy environments,” the company writes.

In July, the Dutch radio broadcaster VRT reported that 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.

VRT also reported that Google sometimes sends portions of users' conversations to outside contractors who analyze 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.

Google is currently facing privacy litigation over the recording practices.

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