19:35 GMT19 January 2021
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    Google acknowledged its contractors are able to listen to recordings of what people say to the company’s artificial intelligence system, Google Assistant. The recordings were obtained by a Belgian broadcaster which reviewed more than 1,000 audio clips and found 153 had been captured accidentally.

    Professor Madeline Carr from the University College London believes it is concerning that people are unaware their conversations are being tapped by Google's employees.

    Sputnik: Google is defending its practice of letting human employees listen to audio recordings of conversations between users and its Google Assistant software. How significant is this and just how worrying is this revelation?

    Madeline Carr: I think this is the worrying revelation because the problem here is not that they're using snippets of language to improve their service and their processing, but that people are not aware of that when they have the device on in their house.

    Sputnik: Do millennials even care about privacy anymore when we live in an age of 24/7 social media?

    Madeline Carr: I think what's critical is that people have a good understanding of how their data or their voice recordings or their images are being used by these organisations. It's fine to opt into to using a device like that and to benefit from all the convenience but there's a critical point here where people become uncomfortable with what's happening and then the great benefits that we stand to obtain our lost because people don't appreciate that.

    Sputnik: By analysing the data it can protect us from things like cybercrime, traditional crime and terrorism? Governments, for example, have been doing this for a long time, especially since the beginning of the millennium. If we look at things like the NCA in the US and GCHQ in Britain, data is centrally analysed, and the argument for this is to strengthen national security to tackle things like cybercrime, traditional crime and terrorism. So is an argument for similar methods done by Google, by analysing and recording people's information?

    Madeline Carr: I think there's quite a difference between law enforcement practices that are undertaking to fight crime more to survey criminals and a device that is in your home that is operating under conditions that you don't understand. There's a big difference there and Google is not making that clear. They're not making clear that a human being is potentially listening to your conversations and transcribing them. If they need to do that to improve language processing, understandable, but people have to be aware that they're doing that when they have that device in their house.

    Sputnik: How can individuals who are perhaps worried about how their data and how their recordings being used essentially protect themselves from these practices used by Google and other large tech companies?

    Madeline Carr: I'm not sure that it really needs to come down to the individual, to be honest. We live in a world of mobile phones and connected devices and increasingly integrated systems and if you look at what the kind of position of the UK with the secure by design principles that are being developed here, that burden shouldn't really rest with individuals because it's just asking too much of people. So really, that burden needs to rest with the manufacturers in the service providers to ensure that people have a clear understanding of what they're giving away; they have a clear understanding of where their data is going and how it's being used and certainly, in this case, people should be aware that some of their conversations are being transcribed and recorded and listened to by human being elsewhere in the world. The thing is like I said if they told us when we bought the product 'We need to record and save and transcribe some of your conversations to improve language processing, are you happy with that?' That's one thing that people can opt in or out, but to find out retrospectively that that's been happening is not acceptable. I think the point of this story is, the issue, when you read their blog post they're saying well someone has violated our policies by releasing those recordings that's not the problem. The problem is it's a bit like the Edward Snowden situation. It's not a problem that he released it, it's a problem that it was happening and that's the critical point to focus on.

    Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of Madeline Carr and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


    Google Defends Contractors Eavesdropping on People Talking to Virtual Assistant
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