Google Assistant Gets New Privacy Safeguards, Sensitivity Options for Hotword Detection


Google Assistant and other voice assistants have recently come under fire over grading and other improvements programmes where the tech companies use humans to listen to voice recordings made by the digital assistants to gather feedback. Google is now implementing certain changes to make Google Assistant more conscious of user privacy. The company is letting existing Google Assistant users review their Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) setting and confirm their preference before any human review process resumes. It has also ensured “greater security protections” to the existing transcription process with an “extra layer of privacy filters” to overcome the current flaws — at least to some extent.

To reveal all the new changes, Google has published a blog post highlighting the measures it is taking to protect user privacy.

“By default, we don’t retain your audio recordings,” writes Nino Tasca, Senior Product Manager, Google Assistant, in a blog post. “This has been the case, and will remain unchanged. You can still use the Assistant to help you throughout the day, and have access to helpful features like Voice Match.”

In the list of new changes coming into force, Google has chosen to put the ability to opt-in for VAA on top. The company claims that it is updating its settings to highlight that when a user has turned on VAA, human reviewers may listen to their audio snippets to improve the existing speech technology. Users can review their VAA setting and confirm their preference.

“We won’t include your audio in the human review process unless you’ve re-confirmed your VAA setting as on,” asserts Tasca in the post.

The executive also mentions that audio snippets are “never associated with any user accounts” and are also used in “a small set of queries” — precisely around 0.2 percent of all user audio snippets — by language experts.

Back in July, Google defended employing humans to listen to Assistant voice recordings by saying that only two-tenth of a percent of recordings are used for human review. The Mountain View company isn’t alone in facing privacy concerns. Apple also recently admitted that a small portion of Siri recordings is heard by humans. Similar is the case with Amazon Alexa that recently allowed its users to disable human review of voice recordings.

Alongside the tweaks pertaining to the VVA setting, Google is also set to bring an ability to adjust the sensitivity of Google Assistant devices. This would help limit unintentional and accidental activations to the voice assistant through prompts like “Hey Google” or “OK Google”.

“One of the principles we strive toward is minimising the amount of data we store, and we’re applying this to the Google Assistant as well. We’re also updating our policy to vastly reduce the amount of audio data we store,” adds Tasca.

Google has additionally promised to automatically delete the “vast majority of audio data” associated with user accounts who have opted in to VAAA and that’s older than a few months. The updated policy towards audio data will also come into place later this year. However, no exact date on when can we see the policy arriving formally hasn’t revealed.

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