Skip to main content

Google Assistant is going to stop listening so intently to your conversations

Google Assistant
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Google Assistant will soon store fewer of your queries and instructions, and give you more control over how your audio snippets are used.

Several tech companies, including Google, Amazon and Apple, have come under fire in recent weeks for using human workers to transcribe snippets of audio recordings from smart speakers and virtual assistants. Their motivations seemed reasonable – they wanted to make sure their software was correctly transcribing spoken commands – but users weren't aware that other people were listening in. 

There were also concerns that the smart assistant could occasionally record incidental background audio, including potentially sensitive information. Such data was deleted without being transcribed, but it was still a worry for users.

As 9to5Google reports, the company put its transcription program on ice following user complaints, and is now reinstating it in a more controlled form.

Google Assistant will now store less audio in general, and is making its policy on human listeners much more transparent. The service has always included an option called Video and Voice Activity, where users can choose whether or not their voices can be used to improve quality of the transcriptions.

Now, Google is adding an extra snippet of text explaining that audio samples may be reviewed by humans, and users will need to explicitly opt in to allow this – if they don't re-confirm their settings, their voices will go unheard by Google's transcribers.

Now listen here...

If you're worried about Google Assistant recording conversations happening in the background you can now adjust its hotword sensitivity, making it easier or harder for Google Home speakers to pick up the words 'Hey Google'.

These are all welcome steps forward, and we'll be interested to see if Amazon, Apple and others will follow in Google's footsteps by effectively jamming their fingers in their ears.