Google investigates employees for security breach

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Last week it became known that Google listens to conversations in which the Google Assistant was not actually activated. A Google employee had collected recorded conversations and handed them over to the Belgian radio station VRT to draw attention to this problem.

Google reacted to this in a blog posting. Google had initiated investigations against the employee who had passed the data on to the press. “Our security and privacy teams have been activated on this issue and we will take action. We are conducting a comprehensive review of our security measures in this area to prevent such misconduct from recurring.”

In the blog post, Google justifies listening to and evaluating voice recordings of employees that the Google Assistant could not help with. In many cases, the language assistant was unintentionally activated. The conversations recorded by the device can then contain very confidential data. Google justifies this with the fact that such false detections are to be recognized and eliminated.

Golem.de recently tested Lenovo’s Smart Display and Google’s Nest Hub and found that the Google Assistant activates itself much more often than an Alexa loudspeaker.

The reason for this could be that four activation phrases are always active in the Google Assistant. These are “Hey Google”, “Okay Google” or the phrases “Hey Buubuu” or “Okay Buubuu” that Google hardly communicates. With the Alexa devices, only one activation word can be used at a time, and changing the signal word is also only possible with the Echo devices from Amazon.

Google claims to have “a variety of security measures in place to protect users’ privacy throughout the review process. Google promises that audio “will not be associated with user accounts as part of the review process. In addition, auditors would be instructed not to “transcribe background conversations or other sounds and only transcribe excerpts directed to Google.

In April, it became known that Amazon employees were evaluating the voice commands. Amazon employees were also able to view other customer data.

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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