Android phone users beware.
Google has effectively turned millions of its users’ smartphones into listening devices that can record and store conversations not meant for Google’s ears.
Every Android phone user who has ever used Google’s Assistant, which is similar to Apple’s Siri, is unknowingly sending voice recordings to the tech giant’s servers, where they are stored “in the cloud” indefinitely.
Google tells its users it only turns on and begins recording when they utter the words, “OK Google.”
But an investigation by the Sun, a U.K.-based newspaper, has found that the virtual assistant is “a little hard of hearing.”
In some cases, just responding “OK” during a private conversation with a friend prompted Google to access the phone speaker and record around 20 seconds of audio.
“It regularly switches on the microphone as you go about your day-to-day activities, none the wiser,” the Sun reports.
Once Google is done recording, it uploads the audio files to its massive data centers.
Google is literally monitoring millions of conversations every day and “storing the creepy audio files” in perpetuity, according to the report.
These files are accessible from absolutely anywhere in the world – as long as you have an Internet connection.
“That means any device that is signed into your personal Gmail or Google account can access the library of your deepest, darkest secrets,” the Sun reports. The newspaper then provides instructions on how to access your library of recorded conversations online.
“So if you’re on a laptop right now and signed into Gmail – you could have a listen,” the Sun says.
But be forewarned.
“You’ll be taken to a hub which contains your entire digital footprint, so be careful, it could make for some grim reading,” the Sun reports.
Google states on its terms and conditions that it keeps these recordings for “improving speech recognition against all Google products that use your voice.”
After the Sun presented examples of the voice recognition flaws to Google, a spokesman said: “We only process voice searches after the phone believes the hot word ‘OK Google’ is detected. Audio snippets are used by Google to improve the quality of speech recognition across Search.”
Mundane voice recordings from the general public will help its artificial intelligence that runs Google Home, by teaching it how humans naturally communicate.
In other words, it’s a free language class for Google’s AI software.
Patrick Wood, a privacy advocate and expert on the global technocracy movement, said, “If you or I were to be caught secretly recording somebody else’s conversation, in many states you would be tried, convicted and thrown in jail.”
But Google does it millions of times each day, and authorities yawn.
“Google’s original motto was ‘Don’t be evil,’ but that was dropped in 2015 when its holding company, Alphabet, took over,” Wood notes. “Since then, its corporate culture has deteriorated into a viscous battle between Google’s technocrats and the public. The public is losing, and Google obviously believes that it is ‘too big to rein in.'”
Is Apple any better?
Wood, editor of Technocracy News & Trends, said iPhone users should not assume Apple is any less intrusive.
“Anything with a microphone can record your conversations – smartphones, home assistance devices [like Amazon Echo], smart TVs, surveillance cameras, gaming consoles, etc.,” Wood said. “We no longer have any expectation of privacy from devices that can and will be used against us.”
One major difference is that Apple is more secretive in terms of the data it collects on users of its Siri system. Apple provides no online access to your audio files.
Google’s answer to Amazon Echo
Google also recently launched a smart assistant product called Google Home, which is a voice-activated task master similar to Amazon Echo.
“Google is hoping we’ll all just get over our understandable fears about Big Brother-style surveillance and opt to buy its new Home device,” the Sun states in another article. “The electronic [Google Home] device is a voice-controlled speaker that connects to your WiFi network and lets you talk to the device as if it were a human.”
“The tech titans insist there’s nothing creepy about installing microphones in ordinary people’s homes,” it continues.
“Yet their reassurances are unlikely to win over people who find it difficult to entirely trust promises made by gigantic corporations with a vested interest in gathering as much data about their customers as possible.”