Google and Amazon Put Brakes on Human Review of Voice Assistant Recordings

Following Apple's decision last week to suspend a Siri program that allows employees to listen to audio recordings for quality control purposes, Amazon and Google have both chosen to make their policies on human reviews of voice assistant audio more clear.


Late last month, Apple confirmed that a small number of anonymized ‌Siri‌ requests are analyzed for the purpose of improving ‌Siri‌, after a Guardian report revealed that contractors regularly hear private conversations recorded by Apple's voice assistant.

To allay privacy concerns, Apple said it was temporarily stopping the program while it reviewed the process that's currently used. It also said it plans to release a software update that will let ‌Siri‌ users opt out.

On Friday, Google said it had also suspended its policy of reviewing Google Assistant audio. The company actually suspended the practice across the EU on July 10 when a German privacy regulator started investigating it following a Belgian media report, but this is the first time Google has confirmed the fact publicly.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings. The new policy took effect Friday, and adds an option in the settings menu of the Alexa mobile app for removing recordings from analysis by Amazon employees.

All of the tech companies employ staff to review a small subset of voice recordings while claiming to anonymize the source. For example, Google distorts the recording before it is listened to, so as to disguise the user's voice, while Apple strips them of identifiable information and assigns each one a random device identifier.

However, Bloomberg revealed that some of Amazon's audio reviewers had access to the home addresses of Amazon customers, before the company moved to restrict the level of access. Many members of the public were unaware the practice even existed until Bloomberg reported on it earlier this year.


Tags: Google, Amazon


Top Rated Comments

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10 weeks ago

Where’s Microsoft on this? Reporters should go ask them if they have human reviewers.

Is Cortana left unchecked?


This comment is under the assumption that anyone uses Cortana.
Rating: 9 Votes
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10 weeks ago
I really wonder whether they don’t think this through. Surely they must know people would find this creepy, right? Otherwise - what is wrong with them?

Second option is that they bank on people not finding it out. That to me is the definition of evil. Knowing you do something wrong but hoping you don’t get caught.

Either way - this demonstrates something is really wrong at Silicon Valley culturally. Yes - people want their devices to become better. But not at any cost.
Rating: 9 Votes
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10 weeks ago

Makes me want to get rid of these devices altogether. Not just bc they do it but mostly bc they hid it and didn't own up to it until after. What else are they doing... I wonder.


Apple’s behavior seems just as corrupt as the NSA mass surveillance scandal— when the director of national intelligence said the US doesn’t record US citizens.
Rating: 5 Votes
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10 weeks ago
Makes me want to get rid of these devices altogether. Not just bc they do it but mostly bc they hid it and didn't own up to it until after. What else are they doing... I wonder.
Rating: 4 Votes
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10 weeks ago

I really wonder whether they don’t think this through. Surely they must know people would find this creepy, right? Otherwise - what is wrong with them?

Second option is that they bank on people not finding it out. That to me is the definition of evil. Knowing you do something wrong but hoping you don’t get caught.

Either way - this demonstrates something is really wrong at Silicon Valley culturally. Yes - people want their devices to become better. But not at any cost.

Not sure about google but Apple said a long time back that there was human review of some Siri requests so they could improve accuracy. I don’t find it creepy at all. I’m pretty sure it is anonymous data anyway. The person reviewing doesn’t know that John Jones asked Siri for directions to the nearest brothel. They just know that someone somewhere asked for directions to the nearest brothel and Siri probably responded with the weather or something. Lol.
Rating: 3 Votes
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10 weeks ago
Where’s Microsoft on this? Reporters should go ask them if they have human reviewers.

Is Cortana left unchecked?
Rating: 2 Votes
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10 weeks ago

“If you turn this off, voice recognition and new features may not work well for you.”

I think this is a little disingenuous. If I opt out, are they going to make the service I receive worse?


I agree; it’s as good as saying: “let us listen to you otherwise the next time you ask to check the weather we’ll assume you asked for the number of your nearest Chinese!”
Rating: 1 Votes
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10 weeks ago
Ultimately humans must review this stuff. There is no other way. It just needs to be done in a secure and anonymized way.
Rating: 1 Votes
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10 weeks ago

Even if you don't use Cortona, it's still not easy to completely disable and runs in the background of most Windows 10 machines.


I think you have a point. When it comes to privacy issues and concerns, compared to companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, Microsoft seems to keep flying under the radar.


Especially with MS running Cortana on XBox which would have a fair few users that are children.
Rating: 1 Votes
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10 weeks ago

Makes me want to get rid of these devices altogether. Not just bc they do it but mostly bc they hid it and didn't own up to it until after. What else are they doing... I wonder.


I agree completely. Why not these companies just be transparent with consumers? It would lead to a lot less headaches down the road.
Rating: 1 Votes
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