Last summer, Amazon, Apple, and Google were criticized for not properly disclosing how human reviewers analyze audio snippets from each of their assistants. Google in response paused the practice for Assistant and other products, but is now resuming and making audio recordings entirely opt-in.

As noted by The Verge, Google is sending out a somewhat confusing email about how it “recently updated settings for voice and audio recordings.” The crux is how the company is having human reviewers analyze audio snippets again.

This process — which involves listening, transcribing, and annotating — improves Google’s speech recognition technology, and helps expand support to more languages. As of last year, only 0.2 percent of all snippets are reviewed by humans.

These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages. This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant. 

In restarting the program, Google “turned [the audio recordings setting] off for you until you are able to review the updated information.” This happened earlier in the week and the email serves as an advisory.

As a result, visiting activity.google.com will no longer let users listen to audio of their commands. You just see the text transcript, while Google notes how there is “no impact to your previously saved audio data.” 


The settings page to enable/disable has a short video recapping the how and why. Tapping the button underneath to enable presents another explainer, with “I agree” in the bottom-right corner.

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About the Author

Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: abner@9to5g.com