Google faces a possible investigation by Irish data privacy regulators related to reports that contractors had been able to listen to audio of users of its digital assistant technology.
The Irish Data Protection Commission received a breach notification from the company late Thursday, said Graham Doyle, the agency’s spokesman. Google reacted in a blog post on Thursday after reports by Belgian broadcaster VRT that contractors could listen to recordings made from people’s conversations with their Google Assistant.
The Irish regulator is Google’s main privacy watchdog in the EU and could, if serious violations are found, levy hefty fines under the bloc’s new data protection rules. Helen Dixon, Ireland’s commissioner for data protection, said in an interview last month she has about 20 investigations open into big technology companies, including Twitter, Apple, and Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram platforms.
Google in a blog post on Thursday said it is working with language experts to help improve its digital home assistant. They “review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages” and it’s “a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant.”
“We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data,” Google said in the post. “Our security and privacy response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”
A Google spokesman declined to comment about the regulatory review.
The news comes just two months after Google unveiled new privacy features at its annual developer conference and also gave users new reasons to give the company even more of their personal information. Bloomberg in April reported that at Amazon.com, people employed to help improve its Alexa digital assistant, listen to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.
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