Rather than wait for regulatory bodies to impose penalties and charges against them, it seems like Google has opted to voluntarily suspend their transcription of recordings from Google Assistant, at least in the European Union. This comes after a Belgian news outlet was able to acquire more than a thousand private conversations in a sort of “expose” of Google’s practices when it comes to outsourcing the transcription of these recordings. They are also still in the process of reviewing their processes in terms of conducting audio reviews.
We previously told you about the Belgian report that showed that Google was outsourcing audio recordings from its Google Assistant to third-party suppliers who then were asked to transcribe the recordings. The issue was that sometimes the people allegedly did not trigger Google Assistant and so there should not have been any recording going on. Also, there was some sensitive information like medical conditions and even customer addresses that would make it easy for them to be identified and contacted.
According to CNBC, a Google spokesperson said that after they learned that someone leaked the confidential Dutch audio data, they “paused” the language reviews of their Google Assistant temporarily. They clarified that they only transcribe (or have it transcribed) around 0.2% of all the voice clips they have and this is used to “help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages.”
It’s a good decision for Google to do this, albeit it seems it’s only temporary, as they are facing regulation threats from lawmakers and politicians for a number of issues including privacy and security but also for their business practices that are allowing a sort of “concentration of power” in the digital lives (and sometimes actual lives” of consumers. The US Department of Justice has actually launched a formal probe into the company and its business practices.
For now, the suspension of transcriptions will last for at least three months as they await whether EU regulatory bodies will officially take action or at least investigate them. Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s commissioner for data protection, said that there are doubts on whether Google Assistant actually complies with the data protection law of the EU. Expect more developments on this matter soon.