Google suspends voice recording transcriptions amid German data regulators' probe

In early July, Google admitted an alarming activity that's part of its audio recording transcriptions: one of its partner language reviewers violated its data security policies. The language reviewer leaked private audio data, prompting an internal investigation within Google.

Today, Germany's Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information announced that it has kicked off its own probe on the situation. The goal of the procedure is to stop Google's employees or its external contractors from evaluating audio recordings captured by Google Assistant. As part of the investigation, the search giant has agreed to temporarily halt all audio recording transcriptions across the European Union for three months, beginning on August 1.

Johannes Caspar, Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, said:

"The use of speech assistance systems in the EU must comply with the data protection
requirements of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). In the case of the Google Assistant, there are currently considerable doubts about this. The use of speech assistance systems must be transparent so that informed consent can be obtained from users. In particular, this involves sufficient and transparent information for those concerned about the processing of voice commands, but also about the frequency and risks of misactivation.

"Finally, due account must be taken of the need to protect third parties affected by voice recordings. As a first step, further questions about the functioning of the speech analysis system need to be answered. The data protection authorities will then have to decide on the final measures that are necessary for their data protection-compliant operation."

The German data privacy regulators also urged other tech companies like Amazon and Apple which provide digital assistant services to review their own speech assistance systems as well. Amazon and Google were among the tech companies reported by Bloomberg earlier this year to be listening to customer interactions with their digital assistants to improve the user experience.

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