Is Google secretly listening in on us? One of the most disturbing questions ever asked in the context of modern technology is surrounding the always-on audio feature in smartphones. Might it be eavesdropping on us without our knowledge or consent? To make matters worse, Google had once reportedly admitted that it’s Assistant might be picking up audio information ambiently. So, what really is happening? Is our most-used and most-trusted piece of technology unobservedly exploiting us every day?
As scary as that sounds, in reality it’s hardly as bad. But to answer the question without obfuscating, it is not. Google is not listening to everything you say within the hearing range. Yes, it has some embedded ML technology that allows it to listen to certain things that are said, but it’s for the exclusive purpose of catching hotwords like “Hey Google”, “Ok Google” or even “Now Playing”. The ML algorithm that does this is built more towards identifying phrases that’d make the device more feature-rich and responsive to the needs of the users. So, to put all worries to rest, even though there’s some truth in that speculation fundamentally speaking, it’s likely not a big deal.
But don’t believe it until you hear it from a source from inside Google. Pete Warden, an ex-Google engineer who has spent years working on the Google infrastructure that uses the aforementioned ML models answers this question directly and clearly in his blog- “Is Google Spying on your Conversations?”. He writes,
Ok, I thought about leaving this as a one-word blog post, but even though I can categorically state that it isn’t happening, the fact that this question comes up regularly in my everyday life, and that I worked on always-on audio when I was at Google, makes me want to expand on this a bit.
Read Pete’s blog – “Is Google Spying on your Conversations?” to find answers to the question about Google that has been giving us all a lingering feeling of discomfort ever since it was popped.