Is Google Being Creepy By Recording Your Conversations?

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Written by Ann Brown

 

Nothing is private. Did you know that Google has been secretly recording your conversations through your mobile? The tech giant has been monitoring millions of conversations daily and then storing the audio files.

How is this possible?  “If you run Android software on your smartphone, Google may have been recording you every day–without you knowing.

If you own an Android phone, it’s likely that you’ve used Google’s Assistant, which is similar to Apple’s Siri. Google says it only turns on and begins recording when you utter the words ‘OK Google,’” The Sun reported.

According to a Sun investigation done last year, the recordings seem to start even when users say “okay” in their normal conversation and the services regularly switches on the microphone as users go about day-to-day business, without any warning. On average, these recordings are about 10-20 seconds. And, there is also a text version of the conversation stored as well.

When the Google is recording is finished, it “uploads the audio files to its computer servers”–also called “the cloud.” And they stay there until you access it.

“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. So if you’re on a laptop right now and signed into Gmail–you could have a listen,” The Sun reported.

Google claims none of this is sinister, that the practice is done merely to help them in “improving speech recognition against all Google products that use your voice.”

Google not only keeps your audio recordings, it stores everything you do online. Need proof? “First, you’ll need to be signed into your Gmail or Google account. Once you’ve done that, type ‘history.google.com/history’ into your web browser. 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 reported. “This includes Maps searches and YouTube videos you’ve watched. Click on ‘Activity Controls’ on the left-hand side of the page. Under ‘Web and App Activity’, click ‘Manage Activity.’”

If Google has been storing your recordings and activity, you will see a stream of web pages and map searches that show up in chronological order. If you want, you can delete anything here.

Okay, no to the audio recordings. Go back to your history, and scroll down to Activity Controls and locate a section titled “Voice & Audio activity.” Here you will find a list of all the audio files.

And, you can switch this off from being recording any more  by going back to “Activity controls.” Under “Web & App activity” there will be a blue toggle. “You can switch this off, but be warned. Officially you have merely ‘paused’ the recordings–so keep checking back on a regular basis to ensure that the terms and conditions don’t change in the future and you aren’t auto-enrolled when a new Android update comes along,” The Sun reported.

Google isn’t the only one recording your conversations. Apple iPhone  stores voice recordings it says to improve its Siri assistant. But unlike Google, Apple doesn’t let you access these stored files, which the company says are anonymized after 18 months.

And it was discovered that not only did Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and distributed it to a random contact.

Users have been told that Amazon’s Echo assistants only turn on when the word “Alexa” is said. But an Alexa user in Portland, Oregon, found out otherwise. The user, Danielle, “found out her Alexa was recording when she received an alarming call from one of her husband’s colleagues saying: ‘Unplug your Alexa devices right now, you’re being hacked,’” The Guardian reported.

This colleague had heard all of her conversation she was having inside her home. “I felt invaded,” Danielle told KIRO-TV. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately, I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.’”

Amazon promised to investigate the problem, but it seems that just hearing a word that sounded like “Alexa” turned on the device. And during Danielle’s conversation Alexa heard something that sounded like “send message” so it recorded and sent the conversation out.

While other tech giants are recording your conversations, Facebook says it will not–at least yet–recording your conversations. Though some users feel Facebook is eavesdropping. One person told USA Today that she “was talking about Lexus with a friend in the car and then the friend started getting Facebook ads from Lexus.” Creepy, right?

Facebook denies this, though the allegations persist.

“The unfounded theory goes like this: Facebook records audio over smartphone microphones and then uses voice recognition software to show relevant ads in people’s News Feeds. Facebook says it only accesses users’ microphones if they have given the Facebook app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio such as voice messaging,” USA Today reported.

Further fueling this theory is that Facebook has filed a patent application “for a process that would remotely turn on devices’ microphone and record audio, sending some of it to the company.”

But Facebook’s vice president of ads Rob Goldman told USA Today,  “Facebook has never used your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed, and we have no plans to do so in the future.”

“Facebook executives seem to know that audio surveillance is a touchy subject these days. The Silicon Valley company shelved plans to introduce Facebook’s new home product–connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities to compete with Google’s Home and Amazon’s Echo–until the company could review how the device handles people’s personal information and how people respond to it,” USA Today reported.

But be forewarned, when you are on your mobile, on your laptop, or just hanging out at home you don’t know what your devices are really doing.

 

 


About Ann Brown

Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.