Published 8:20 PM EDT Jul 11, 2019
As privacy concerns loom large over smart speakers, a new investigation has found that Google's smart speakers might infringe on individual privacy more than buyers realize.
Even when Google Home smart speakers aren't activated, the speakers are eavesdropping closely, often to private, intimate conversations, a report by Dutch broadcaster VRT has uncovered.
Recordings found by VRT contain startling content: Couples' quarrels that may have potentially resulted in domestic violence, explicit conversations in the bedroom, men searching for pornography, confidential business calls, and talks with children.
How does the technology work? The commands to activate Google Home speakers are "Hey, Google" and "OK, Google." Once anyone says something that resembles those commands, Google Home starts to record.
The recordings are then sent to Google subcontractors, who review them later to aid Google in understanding how different languages are spoken.
There are no policies in place, found VRT, if a subcontractor finds a recording of an individual in danger.
A Google spokesperson told USA TODAY that Google Assistant users must opt in to have their voice recordings stored on their account, and that users can still use their Google Home products without enabling the setting.
Google adds that it only reviews 0.2% of audio recordings for transcription.
Google does, however, require users to turn on voice recording in order to use all of Google Home's features.
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Enough information is revealed in these recordings to gather sensitive details, like individual addresses.
The whistleblower who reached out to VRT was a Dutch subcontractor hired to transcribe recorded audio for Google to use in its speech recognition technology. He reached out after discovering that Amazon's Alexa, a direct competitor to Google Home, keeps its data indefinitely.
Google said in a statement that it is investigating the whistleblower "to prevent misconduct like this from hap