Unless you change a setting, Google stores anything you say to Google Assistant on its servers. The company employs contractors to listen to those recordings to improve Google Assistant’s performance. A contractor leaked over 1000 recordings, some of personal nature.
Google Assistant on a device isn’t intelligent. If you have a Google Home, all it can do on its own is listen for the wake word. Once you say the wake word, Google Home sends everything else that follows to cloud servers for interpretation. Those cloud servers provide the real intelligence to Google Home.
What happens next depends on your settings. If you’re a new Google Assistant user, by default Google discards your recordings once it interprets your command and sends a response back. But Google only recently made that behavior the default, and it didn’t retroactively apply the new choice to existing users.
So if you’re a long time Google Assistant user, and you haven’t changed your preference, Google stores your voice on its servers. The company uses these recordings to improve the Google Assistant service, in part by having humans listen to them. The idea is, a human can listen to the command sent and examine the response given, find any errors, and flag them for correction.
A contractor employed for just this purpose recently leaked over 1000 recordings that came from Google Assistant. Some of these recordings revealed that Google Assistant did occasionally record when no one spoke the wake word. Typically this is an instance of false positive, a person’s Google Home thought it detected the wake word and started recording, but it was wrong.
Some of the recordings leaked contained personal details, such as medical details, and the contractor claimed that in some cases they could potentially link the voice to an actual user.
In the past few months, similar reports have come out about Alexa, and the main difference here is you can opt-out with Google Assistant— that is it’s possible to use a Google Home and not have your voice stored. You can’t opt-out with Alexa.
But the most disturbing part is that a contractor could leak these voice transcripts in the first place. It’s not clear how they managed to copy the data, and Google says it’s now investigating and plans to find the leaker. Hopefully, along the way, they add more security precautions that prevent removing data from its servers [TechCrunch]
In Other News:
- A Japanese hotel built a full-sized flight simulator into one of its rooms: So you’ve just spent hours on a plane traveling to Japan. You probably would like to sit back, relax, and pretend to fly a 747. Well, a Japanese hotel has just the room for you. It features a full-size flight simulator that looks like a Boeing 747 cockpit, and you can even pay for flying lessons. One ticket to Japan, please. [The Verge]
- You can now register for the Minecraft Earth closed beta: Microsoft is working on an AR Minecraft game along the lines of Pokemon Go. It showed off some gameplay at Apple’s WWDC event. Now it’s ready to start early testing with a closed beta. Just hop on over to the registration site, then cross your fingers. And watch out for creepers. [Thurott]
- YouTube is adding more ways for creators to make money: Advertising revenue isn’t always reliable, and depending on it as a sole means of income is a risky proposition. So YouTube is adding more ways for creators to make money on its platform. The options extend from merchant partners to expanded chat features called Super Stickers, which fans can purchase during events. [Digital Trends]
- A self-driving shuttle crash could have been prevented by manual controls: In Las Vegas, a self-driving shuttle began a year-long test and managed to get into a minor collision after only an hour of testing. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated and found two causes: the truck that hit the self-driving shuttle didn’t stop when it should have. And the self-driving shuttle’s manual controls (an Xbox controller) were locked away in an inconvenient location. Thankfully no one was hurt, and now the controls will be accessible at all times. [Engadget]
- Microsoft Teams now has 13 million daily active users: Microsoft announced that Teams now has 13 million daily active users. That number rises to 19 million when counting weekly active users. That puts Teams over Slack’s last reported numbers of 10 million users. Likely the big boost comes from Microsoft’s bundling the product with Office 365 business tiers, which is attractive to companies that already subscribe to the service. [Venture Beat]
- Twitter testing an option to hide replies: Sometimes Twitter threads go off the rails, and all sorts unrelated mini-discussions clutter up the thread. Twitter says it will start testing a feature that allows you to hide replies in Canada. The feature won’t delete replies; they simply won’t show in the normal view. A grey button will reveal the hidden reply. [TechSpot]
- An angry mob burned down the home of a suspected bitcoin scammer: In South Africa, a Ponzi scheme was well underway. “Bitcoin Wallets” promised a 100 percent return on investment in just 15 days if you forked over $357 in cash. The source of guaranteed revenue was, of course, Bitcoin, known for its stability and security. Naturally, the promises fell through, and an angry mob ended up burning down the house of the man suspected to be the ring leader of the scheme. [The Next Web]
Wakanda Fish Forever.
Marine biologist Luiz Rocha spotted an unfamiliar fish while SCUBA diving off the coast of Zanzibar. He took a picture and sent it to Yi Kai Tea, a PH.D. candidate at the University of Sydney.
Tea confirmed Rocha’s hope; this was an undiscovered species of fairy wrasse fish. One Tea had been hoping would be found. The fairy wrasse is typically small, brightly colored, and tends to live near coral reefs in rubble areas. This new species fills in a gap in the distribution of fairy wrasse that Tea had noticed previously.
This particular fish is an almost luminescent purple that resembles vibranium as seen in Marvel’s Black Panther. Given that look, Rocha could think of but one appropriate name for the newly discovered species: Cirrhilabrus wakanda. It’s worth checking out the picture just to see the purple coloring and transparent fins. [Gizmodo]