Google admits partners leaked more than 1,000 private conversations with Google Assistant

Key Points
  • Google on Wednesday admitted that partners who work to analyze voice snippets from the Google Assistant leaked more than 1,000 private conversations to a Belgian news outlet.
  • Google said language experts only examine a small fraction of responses, but they're supposed to be anonymous.
  • The Belgian news site VRT was able to identify the people in the voice clips, however.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 11, 2018.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Google admitted on Thursday that more than 1,000 sound recordings of customer conversations with the Google Assistant were leaked by some of its partners to a Belgian news site.

These conversations are used by companies such as Google and Amazon -- which takes clips from the Amazon Echo -- to improve voice responses from their smart assistants. They are supposed to be kept confidential.

But Belgian news site VRT said on Wednesday that a contractor provided it with samples of these sound samples, which VRT then used to identify some of the people in the clips. It also examined the sorts of conversations that Google collects when people say "OK Google," into a phone or a Google Home product. Among other things, VRT heard customer addresses. Sources who talked to the publication also described hearing recordings of a woman in distress and people talking about medical conditions.

Google has now admitted the recordings were leaked.

"We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data," Google product manager of search David Monsees said in a blog post. "Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again"

Monsees said its partners only listen to "around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets" and said they are "not associated with user accounts," even though VRT was able to figure out who was speaking in some of the clips.

If this worries you, you can delete your old Google Assistant voice history pretty easily.

Amazon also collects voice clips when people speak to Alexa and also uses humans to analyze clips. You can stop Alexa from using the clips to improve Amazon's service, however, and delete your past recordings.

What happens when you ask Alexa, Google and Siri if they are spying on you
What happens when you ask Alexa, Google and Siri if they are spying on you