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Google suspends transcriptions of recordings from its voice assistant in Europe

Key Points
  • Google has halted voice transcriptions from Google Assistant in the European Union.
  • The voluntary action comes weeks after the company admitted some private conversations were available to contractors who evaluated the accuracy of Google Assistant's speech recognition.
  • It also comes as regulators zoom in on Big Tech's consumer power.
Google's Mario Queiroz shows the Google Home on May 19, 2016 in Mountain View, California.
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Google has suspended producing transcriptions of voice recordings from its Google Assistant product in the European Union.

The company admitted in mid-July that partners who work to analyze voice snippets from the Assistant leaked more than 1,000 private conversations to a Belgian news outlet. Some of those messages revealed sensitive information such as medical conditions and customer addresses.

"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," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. "Shortly after we learned about the leaking of confidential Dutch audio data, we paused language reviews of the Assistant to investigate."

The spokesperson said that the transcriptions account for 0.2% of all voice clips, adding that they "help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages."

Google's voluntary action to halt the transcriptions also comes as the company faces the threat of regulation from lawmakers and politicians alike for its concentration of power in consumers' lives. The Department of Justice last month announced a formal probe into Big Tech's business practices.

Google will suspend the transcriptions for at least three months, according to the Associated Press. German regulators reportedly have a formal probe into the company's data practices but haven't yet taken action against it, the AP reported.

The office of Johannes Caspar, Hamburg's commissioner for data protection, said there are "currently significant doubts" about whether Google Assistant complies with EU data-protection law, according to the AP report.

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