Voice assistants have become a staple part of many people’s lives, but in recent weeks, it has become apparent that they are not as private as some might think.
Which companies were revealed to be using human contractors to listen to voice assistant recordings, and is there any way to stop this from happening?
Voice Assistant Revelations
These past weeks, major tech companies have been under fire after whistleblowers revealed that they have been listening to recordings captured by voice assistants. From Amazon to Microsoft, the issue of privacy concerning voice assistants has been blown wide open.
It all started in April when a Bloomberg report revealed that thousands of Amazon workers were listening to Alexa audio clips from all over the world. By July, a Google contractor revealed that they, too, were listening to clips from Google Assistant An apple contractor soon followed suit, reporting that they have also been regularly listening to Siri recordings. Just this week, a report revealed that Microsoft has also been listening to Cortana and Skype recordings.
While the fact that private recordings are being listened to is already a cause for concern for many, it was also revealed that many accidental recordings were made. This means that contractors had been listening to audio that was recorded even without prompting the voice assistant. As such, apart from the interactions with voice assistants, contractors also had access to private and intimate conversations and moments that were not prompted by voice assistant interactions.
How To Stop Companies From Listening To Recordings
The system of using human contractors to listen to recordings from customers is supposedly used to grade and improve the virtual assistant and its services. While some customers are aware of the practice and have agreed to it, many are still surprised to find that this is an ongoing practice.
For now, Google and Apple have temporarily paused the grading system, but Apple has stated that it will likely return but on an opt-in basis, meaning users will have the choice to participate or not. While people can sue for damages, as a minor and his or her guardian have done in California, there are simple ways of stopping devices from recording interactions and companies from listening to them.
To stop Google from collecting recordings, a user must visit the Activity Controls page on his Google account and turn Voice & Audio Activity off. To delete already recorded activity, you can go to Manage Activity under Voice & Audio Activity and delete the recordings you want to.
For Amazon, users can go to the Alexa app or the Alexa website then go to Setting and look for Alexa Privacy. Under “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa,” the user must disable the Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features” option.
As for Cortana, one can stop human reviews of your conversations by going on a Windows 10 PC, going to Settings, Privacy, then Speech, and disabling the “Online Speech Recognition Option.” Unfortunately, there are so far no options for stopping Microsoft from listening to Skype recordings.