Thursday November 14, 2019
Home Lead Story Google Stops ...

Google Stops Listening to EU Voice Recordings, Probe Begins

In a statement, Google had said it only transcribes and uses “about 0.2 per cent of all audio clips”, to improve their voice recognition technology

0
//
google, online tracking
A man walks past a Google sign outside with a span of the Bay Bridge at rear in San Francisco, May 1, 2019. VOA

Google has stopped listening and transcribing Google Assistant recordings in Europe after Germany’s data protection commissioner said the country was investigating reports that third-party contractors listened to users’ bedroom talks captured by Google’s AI-powered Assistant.

Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS reported last month that users’ conversations with Google Home speakers were being recorded and audio clips were being sent to sub-contractors who then “transcribed the audio files for subsequent use in improving Google’s speech recognition technology”, raising serious privacy concerns.

In a statement released late Thursday, Germany’s data protection commissioner said the use of automatic speech assistants from providers such as Google, Apple and Amazon is proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected.

“This applies not only to people who run a speech assistant, but to all those who come into contact with it, for example if they live in a household in which devices such as Google Assistant are installed are used,” said the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information.

A Google spokesperson said it has paused “language reviews”.

“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,” The Verge reported, quoting a Google spokesperson.

According to the German anti-trust regulator, Google was able to gather personal information — some of it sensitive — within the private and intimate sphere of the persons concerned from the recorded conversations.

google assistant
The transcribers heard just everything: personal information, bedroom talks, domestic violence and what not. Wikimedia Commons

Against this background, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has initiated an administrative procedure to prohibit Google from carrying out corresponding evaluations by employees or third parties for the period of three months.

“This is intended to provisionally protect the rights of privacy of data subjects for the time being. Google has declared that in the course of these administrative proceedings, transcriptions of voice recordings will no longer be carried out at present and for at least three months from 1 August 2019. This covers all of the EU,” said the commissioner.

VRT NWS, with the help of a whistleblower, was able to listen to more than 1,000 excerpts recorded via Google Assistant.

“In these recordings, we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings,” said the report.

The transcribers heard just everything: personal information, bedroom talks, domestic violence and what not about Google Assistant users in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Also Read: People with High Vitamin A Intake at Lower Risk of Skin Cancer

VRT “overheard countless men searching for porn, arguments between spouses, and even one case in which a woman seemed to be in an emergency situation”.

The Belgian broadcaster said the recordings were done despite the fact that some of Google Home users did not even say the wake word, “Ok Google”.

In a statement, Google had said it only transcribes and uses “about 0.2 per cent of all audio clips”, to improve their voice recognition technology. (IANS)

Next Story

‘Project Nightingale’ of Google Confronts a Federal Inquiry in the US

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Google tried to clarify its partnership with Ascension

0
Google
As part of "Project Nightingale", Ascension uploaded patient data to Cloud servers of Google. Pixabay

Partnership with US healthcare organisation Ascension of Google over health data collection of millions of Americans through its “Project Nightingale” has triggered a federal probe, the media reported on Wednesday.

The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services in the US is launching an inquiry into “Project Nightingale”, reports CNN Business.

The Office for Civil Rights “will seek to learn more information about this mass collection of individuals’ medical records to ensure that [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPAA] protections were fully implemented”, office director Roger Severino was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that “Google is engaged with one of the US’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” and at least 150 Google staffers may have access to the data.

The St. Louis-based healthcare organisation Ascension is allegedly sharing details such as lab results, diagnoses and hospitalisation records — as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth — with the tech giant.

As part of “Project Nightingale”, Ascension uploaded patient data to Google’s Cloud servers.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Google tried to clarify its partnership with Ascension.

Google
Partnership with US healthcare organisation Ascension of Google over health data collection of millions of Americans through its “Project Nightingale” has triggered a federal probe. Pixabay

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” said Tariq Shaukat, President, Industry Products and Solutions, Google Cloud.

Ascension also issued a statement, saying it is working with Google to optimise the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care.

ALSO READ: Microsoft to Unveil November Update of Windows 10

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing. (IANS)