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Back in July, Google was criticized for not more clearly disclosing that it hires people to transcribe Assistant queries from Home and other devices. The company today announced changes that will be implemented, including a Google Assistant hotword sensitivity preference.

The company starts by apologizing for not meeting its “high standards in making it easy for you to understand how your data is used.” In response to the practice coming to light, Google paused human transcription globally, and “conducted a full review of our systems and controls.”

Google has a Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) setting that when enabled, “helps improve the Assistant for everyone by allowing us to use small samples of audio to understand more languages and accents.” Moving forward, the already opt-in preference will explicitly note that human reviewers may be leveraged to listen to that audio. Only 0.2% of snippets are reviewed, with the company previously defending the importance of transcribers to expand Assistant’s availability.

If you’re an existing Assistant user, you’ll have the option to review your VAA setting and confirm your preference before any human review process resumes. We won’t include your audio in the human review process unless you’ve reconfirmed your VAA setting as on.

Less audio data will be stored in the future, with existing VAA users seeing the “vast majority of audio data” that’s older than a few months deleted. This comes into effect later this year.

One of the principles we strive toward is minimizing the amount of data we store, and we’re applying this to the Google Assistant as well. We’re also updating our policy to vastly reduce the amount of audio data we store.

Meanwhile, more “privacy protections” will be put in place for the transcription process. The fact that Google was using humans came to light after a transcriber leaked 1,000 “confidential Dutch audio data” recordings to a Belgian publication. Google is now adding “greater security protections to this process, including an extra layer of privacy filters.”

The last step today deals with audio recordings captured from unintentional activation when Assistant mistakenly hears the “Hey Google” hotword. While data captured this way was already deleted, Google is getting better at detection and more stringent about excluding from human review.

Google is also adding a new Assistant hotword sensitivity setting “to reduce unintentional activations, or if you’d prefer, make it easier for you to get help in especially noisy environments.”

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Abner Li

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