Google is no stranger to questionable privacy procedures, with numerous concerns raised over its data-collection methods over the past few years.
While Facebook and Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, have faced similar accusations, new technology for Google Assistant makes it entirely possible for the devices to listen in on conversations without your knowledge.
Of course, Google has vehemently denied this happens. But during a recent parliament sitting with an IT panel in India, the company seemingly admitted it could listen in — and have listened in — on users’ private conversations.
Here’s the backstory
It’s been widely speculated Google records your conversations with its virtual assistant. Some suggest Google Assistant can even listen in without the wake words or phrases being triggered, such as “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google.”
Google representatives were brought in front of an Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology and asked about the functionality by Member of Parliament Nishikant Dubey.
While the exact quote from Google hasn’t been revealed, India Today explained, “The Google team admitted that sometimes audio was recorded by the Google Assistant on a smartphone or smart speaker even when a user had not triggered the AI by saying, ‘OK, Google.’”
The company admitted in 2019 that its staff listened to a small snippet of audio recordings. They insisted, though, they only listened to users who had opted into the Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) program.
“We take a number of precautions to protect data during the human review process — audio snippets are never associated with any user accounts, and language experts only listen to a small set of queries,” Google explained at the time.
What you can do about it
Google’s smart devices that include its virtual assistant, including the Nest Hub, Nest Mini and Nest Hub Max, feature a microphone switch in the back. When you flip this switch to the off position, the device won’t be able to record your voice.
However, turning off the microphone presents another issue: Your device won’t respond to wake words or phrases. As a result, any commands you give must be delivered through another source, like the Google Home app or the dedicated Google Assistant app.
Now that you’re looking into privacy, you should delete all voice recordings Google has captured. To delete everything you’ve ever said to the virtual assistant, navigate to My Activity in your Google account. From there, you can easily erase all your conversations, questions and requests. Here’s how:
- Go to your Google Account.
- On the left navigation panel, click Data & personalization.
- In the Activity controls panel, click Web & App Activity > Manage Activity. On this page, you’ll find a list of your past activity. Items with the audio icon include a recording.
- Above your activity, select Delete.
- Select All time.
- Follow the instructions to delete your activity.
Note: The above steps will delete all of your Web & App Activity items, not just items that include a recording.
To turn off Google’s listening ability on your smartphone, you must go into the Google Assistant app and make the change.
For Apple iPhones:
- Open Settings and tap Privacy.
- Locate the menu labeled Microphone and tap it.
- Find Google Assistant and toggle the switch to the “off” position.
For Android-based smartphones:
- Open Settings, then scroll and tap Account Services.
- Select Search, Assistant & Voice, and then tap Google Assistant.
- Next, scroll to Assistant devices, tap Phone, and turn off the slider for Google Assistant.