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Google reduces the amount of audio data reviewed by humans

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Google has changed its policies around the storage of audio data from its users, following concerns from privacy advocates about humans listening to the recordings.

The search giant said it will continue to store audio of user queries made after saying the “Ok Google” wake phrase but it will delete it sooner than it did before and will now let users know that humans may hear their requests when opting in to the Voice & Audio Activity settings.

Both Apple and Amazon have made similar moves to limit the practice after it emerged that they also used humans to manually listen to recordings with the intent to make improvements to the language recognition algorithms. Amazon added the option to prevent humans from listening to their voice commands altogether in August.

“We’ve heard concerns about our process in which language experts can listen to and transcribe audio data from the Google Assistant to help improve speech technology for different languages,” Google said in a blog post. “It's clear that we fell short of our high standards in making it easy for you to understand how your data is used, and we apologise.”

“When we learned about these concerns, we immediately paused this process of human transcription globally to investigate, and conducted a full review of our systems and controls.”

Some of the reviewers who spoke out after it was made clear that humans were involved in the process claimed they heard private, intimate and illegal conversations during their work. Google said it only listened to a small amount of audio - around 0.2 per cent of all audio snippets and that it does not store audio data by default.

“We believe in putting you in control of your data, and we always work to keep it safe. We’re committed to being transparent about how our settings work so you can decide what works best for you,” it said.

In April Google was forced to scrap an AI ethics council just one week after its launch, following a protest from employees demanding the removal of a right-wing thinktank leader.

Last week researchers investigating data sharing by smart TVs found that they share revealing data with companies including Google, Amazon and Facebook. 

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