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Captain Chaos

Ok Google, eavesdrop on me. Google employees listening to Google Home recordings

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Posted · Original PosterOP

1602810408_NotOKGoogle.jpg.8f4457157c8ee8b4a4d75d9efceff57c.jpg

 

 

In the aftermath of the Amazon Alexa news from a couple of months ago, VRT NWS (the news site of Belgium's largest television station) ended up talking to someone who works for one of Google's subcontractors. 

Turns out things are done pretty much the same way there.  Google employees are systematically listening to audio files recorded by Google Home devices and Google's smartphone app. 

VRT NWS was able to listen to more than a thousand recordings, several of which were private conversations, arguments etc, so not intended for the device and often containing personal information. 

 

Quote

VRT NWS listened to more than a thousand excerpts, 153 of which were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘Okay Google’ was clearly not given.

 

The terms and conditions mention that the audio is being recorded and stored.   But they don't mention that Google employees listen to excerpts of these recordings.

Google has even claimed it doesn't do this ... or atleast implied it through the clever use of language.

Quote

Google has continually claimed that it doesn’t eavesdrop. Google Holland even made a smooth YouTube ‘explainer’ to remove any misconceptions about eavesdropping. In this video, Google employees answer the question ‘Does Google eavesdrop?’. They say that the commands are being stored and transferred to Google for analysis. And they very clearly state: ‘No, you are not being eavesdropped’.


Some of the recordings involved violence and/or people in distress.  Just like at Amazon, Google's guidelines seem to be nonexistant when it comes to these cases.  Employees simply need to write down every word and every cough. 

 

 

 

In a response to the article, Google claims that these audio files are marked for manual checking "by language experts worldwide" to improve their speech technology. 

Quote

"This happens by making transcripts of of a small number of audio files", Google's spokesman for Belgium says. He adds that "this work is of crucial importance to develop technologies sustaining products such as the Google Assistant."

Google states that their language experts only judge "about 0.2 percent of all audio fragments". These are not linked to any personal or identifiable information, the company adds.

 

Even though the recordings may not be linked to identifiable information (assuming Google is telling the truth), they still contain exactly that kind of information.  No prizes for guessing what happened next ...

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In these recordings we could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information. This made it easy for us to find the people involved and confront them with the audio recordings.

 

 

 

 

Source : VRT NWS' article (from the English section of their site)

 

So basically whenever you say something that your home assistant doesn't understand because it wasn't meant for said assistant, it'll be flagged for manual review.  No real surprises there.

If you get/have one of these devices, always keep in mind that anything you say in their vicinity may be heard by complete strangers.  But hey, at least there's no signs of evil intent.   

 

 

 

 

UPDATE :

 

Google US responded in a blogpost.  They defend the collecting of audio and are going after the person who leaked the audio excerpts.

Quote

We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.

https://www.blog.google/products/assistant/more-information-about-our-processes-safeguard-speech-data/

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Google: We won't eavesdrop and we respect your privacy

 

Also Google: Oh yeah, we forgot the giant asterisk on that first bit. Maybe two.


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I wonder if there is a smart speaker that does not listen to you, does not record your voice, and does not sell your data 🤔


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Why people stick these stupid devices in their homes is just beyond baffling. Are people really this dumb or just don't give a fuck at all? Like, come on, would you let your neighbor listen to ALL your conversations? Of course not. But they are totally fine because it's Google and it's listened to by someone 1000 kilometers away. So all is fine. I think people don't even know what is happening and when someone tells them they look at them like they are some sort of paranoid fruitcakes. Wake up people!

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8 minutes ago, RejZoR said:

Why people stick these stupid devices in their homes is just beyond baffling. Are people really this dumb or just don't give a fuck at all? Like, come on, would you let your neighbor listen to ALL your conversations? Of course not. But they are totally fine because it's Google and it's listened to by someone 1000 kilometers away. So all is fine. I think people don't even know what is happening and when someone tells them they look at them like they are some sort of paranoid fruitcakes. Wake up people!

I've seen one fairly convincing use case: For an older person still in their own home. Voice Commands can be very useful to someone with a frail body.

 

Beyond that, all we've seen is a solution to the biggest structural issue for why 1984 couldn't come to pass: no government could ever afford the amount of cameras & mics necessary for a Big Brother system. Turns out people will willingly put them in their homes if you save them 2 seconds of effort. Is it Big Government or Big Business you should worry about? Answer is "Yes".

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I'm reminded of that one Spongebob episode where Spongebob shows Patrick all the dirty diapers, but instead of diapers, it's evidence that Google is, in fact, doing evil.


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35 minutes ago, Taf the Ghost said:

I've seen one fairly convincing use case: For an older person still in their own home. Voice Commands can be very useful to someone with a frail body.

 

Beyond that, all we've seen is a solution to the biggest structural issue for why 1984 couldn't come to pass: no government could ever afford the amount of cameras & mics necessary for a Big Brother system. Turns out people will willingly put them in their homes if you save them 2 seconds of effort. Is it Big Government or Big Business you should worry about? Answer is "Yes".

Yeah, I get that. I remember one guy explaining how voice control and narration is helping him since he couldn't use keyboard or mouse. But beyond that, it's just straight up creepy and no one seems to give a damn which is just terrifying.

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17 minutes ago, RejZoR said:

Yeah, I get that. I remember one guy explaining how voice control and narration is helping him since he couldn't use keyboard or mouse. But beyond that, it's just straight up creepy and no one seems to give a damn which is just terrifying.

People will pay money to be more lazy. Also, people will follow trends if you pay for that trend to be "fashionable". 

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In the end, companies of a certain size will more or less always try things that are "at best" in the grey ara of the law and/or moral standards. Also, people are dumb enough to buy a new iPhone (i could have said any other overpricing company but apple deserves this little roast for their 1k monitor stand)  every so often or pay 100$ for clothing worth of 5$ just because a certain name is on it. 

I sometimes wonder if my shabby 100€ Nokia 2 listens and/or watches its surroundings all the time since apparently apps can more or less do what they want, even though they have not asked for permissions.


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1 hour ago, Taf the Ghost said:

I've seen one fairly convincing use case: For an older person still in their own home. Voice Commands can be very useful to someone with a frail body.

This, absolutely. I've set up Home Minis throughout my mother's place. She can turn her fans on or off, turn lights on or off, etc. 

As far as the whole Big Brother concern... just flush the messages every month. 

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2 hours ago, DrMacintosh said:

I wonder if there is a smart speaker that does not listen to you, does not record your voice, and does not sell your data 🤔

As far as I'm aware, Google doesn't sell user data. They do allow you to delete most of your data and it's actually gone... and archives are purged within ~60 days.  

The companies I WOULD worry about are Microsoft and Facebook. MS and FB basically think of their users as suckers. 

Apple is kind of a healthy middle ground but I'm not aware of them having data controls that let people delete things. 

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1 minute ago, comander said:

Apple is kind of a healthy middle ground but I'm not aware of them having data controls that let people delete things. 

Apple does have those kinds of data controls (they are required by EU law to have them), but there really isn't anything to delete because all of the data Apple gets from you is mostly localized on device. Apple hardly collects any telemetry data to begin with and what they do collect is meta data stripped. There is a reason devices like HomePod have full blown smartphone SoCs in them. 


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1 hour ago, comander said:

Google doesn't sell user data

More accurately they weren't caught doing it.....But you cant know it for sure.

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Spoiler

image.thumb.png.b9ace733de6b8468f4a64c7c1dd285a1.png

 

1 hour ago, comander said:

As far as I'm aware, Google doesn't sell user data

Yes they do, what do you think targeted advertisements are? Just because the data itself doesn't change hands doesn't mean they aren't selling it.

3 hours ago, Taf the Ghost said:

I've seen one fairly convincing use case: For an older person still in their own home. Voice Commands can be very useful to someone with a frail body.

That is absolutely true, but voice commands don't require an internet connection, let alone sending recordings back "home". There are plenty of ways of offering that convenience without infringing on people's privacy.


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Posted · Original PosterOP

Small update : Several privacy experts confirmed that this is a clear violation of GDPR. 

For this kind of data collection and handling of data to be legal, explicit consent is necessary.  That involves clearly being informed about what data Google collects and what exactly they do with that data, so burying a vague description somewhere in a 3000 word ToS doesn't count. 

 

Philippe De Backer, Belgian State Secretary of Privacy, has already asked the Belgian Data Authority to investigate this further.  Seeing as it doesn't affect only us, several other EU countries will most likely be doing the same.  This could very well end up becoming a multi-billion dollar fine. 

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Tbh I'm not even surprised. Amazon and Google are some of the biggest companies in the world, you'd have to be so naive to be shocked by something like this.

 

Obviously this doesn't mean it's okay, but realistically is there anything we can do about this? Governments and agencies that fine companies that do this don't fine them enough and they just keep doing it. 

 

"oh you breached our data law, we'll fine you 10 mill. Don't do it again!"

 

Google: "Lol okay"

 

Meanwhile they've just made back that money 20 times over in the span of a couple hours.


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21 hours ago, comander said:

As far as I'm aware, Google doesn't sell user data.

They don't need to, they are the ones making money off of it themselves. They are the ones USING the data for profit and target advertising. They don't have to sell it.

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On 7/10/2019 at 12:41 PM, DrMacintosh said:

I wonder if there is a smart speaker that does not listen to you, does not record your voice, and does not sell your data 🤔

Yeah, its called a Bluetooth speaker. I have one, it plays music, or anything I connect it with via bluetooth.


It doesnt listen to me, it doesnt record my voice, it doesnt sell my data.

 

FFS are people really surprised by this news?! Really, Google, the company that got rich by collecting user data? Is collecting my data???

Who would put these speakers in their house in the first place? Such limited usefulness, I really don't get it. Everything that "smart" speaker does I can look up on my phone faster and better.

 

Oh, and by the way, if you put your house full of Wifi lightbulbs to work with these crappy speakers, those are just more devices to get hacked and turned into a botnet eventually. Have fun while your lightbulbs are DDOS'ing your favorite website or service.

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4 minutes ago, maartendc said:

Yeah, its called a Bluetooth speaker.

I was more talking about the HomePod. Bluetooth speakers are not smart speakers. 


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9 minutes ago, maartendc said:

They don't need to, they are the ones making money off of it themselves. They are the ones USING the data for profit and target advertising. They don't have to sell it.

I think they were prohibited by an FCC agreement they made a while back. I don't know how long that'll actually last though. 

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Posted · Original PosterOP
4 minutes ago, maartendc said:

Oh, and by the way, if you put your house full of Wifi lightbulbs to work with these crappy speakers, those are just more devices to get hacked and turned into a botnet eventually. Have fun while your lightbulbs are DDOS'ing your favorite website or service.

 

Hey, at least everyone will learn how to use bitcoin. 

 

Spoiler

the-internet-of-ransomware-things-internet-of-more-things.jpg.22608fb6f3d8d37834ee6bf02344b9ef.jpg

 

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I feel bad for people who are surprised by this "news". It makes me genuinely upset that people are that ignorant about tech in 2019 and somebody isn't trying to fix that.


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