Google tells Parliament IT Panel that its employees listen to some Ok Google queries

Google tells Parliament IT Panel that its employees listen to some Ok Google queries

During a deposition before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on the need to safeguard citizens’ rights, global tech giant Google representatives, according to sources on Tuesday, admitted that Google employees listen to private recordings of customer conversations via Google Assistant.

Panel sources stated that Google admitted that its employees listen to conversation when users with Google Assistant on their phones and smart speakers said, “Ok, Google” to kick start a conversation with the assistant powered by artificial intelligence.

In a sitting of the parliamentary panel facing a specific question from the BJP MP from Godda seat in Jharkhand, Nishikant Dubey sources said Google team admitted that sometimes users were not even calling up the virtual assistant, user conversations were recorded.

Google, however, added that sensitive information was not heard, and it was only general conversation which was recorded. Google, however, is said to have provided no clarification on how it differentiated between sensitive and non-sensitive information

This, according to members of the panel, is being considered a serious breach of user privacy, and the final report of the standing committee headed by Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor would be making recommendations to the government on it.

The panel firmly conveyed to the representatives of the social media platforms that they need to plug the loopholes in their existing data protection and privacy policy mechanism and install stringent safeguards to protect the data privacy and data security of Indian users.

A member of the panel said, “the admission by Google explains why lakhs of users right after asking Google assistant about hotels in a city start getting messages on their accounts on different platforms about deals and offers.”

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Another member said, “In its terms and conditions, Google states clearly that audio recordings between users and their Google smart speakers and Google Assistant devices are recorded and stored. But the terms do not mention that its employees can listen to excerpts from these recordings. Also, Google, in its privacy policy, says that it will share personal information outside of Google when it has users consent. This is a serious breach of user privacy.”

A senior official from MEITY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) said,” the government is looking into the issue of companies like Google not deleting the stored data as a rule and keeping the transcripts until a user manually deletes the information. Google’s Product Manager of Search David Monsees, in a company blog post, admitted in 2019 that its language experts globally listen to these recordings to help Google better understand languages to develop speech technology.”

Interestingly the social media platforms who have challenged the IT Rules that kicked in from 26 May in courts found all the panel members uniting cutting across party lines to Direct Facebook, Google and others to comply with the country’s IT rules. The absence of a political divide led to extensive gruelling of the social platforms’ teams.

Earlier, the Parliamentary panel chairman Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had cracked the whip on demand by the officials of the social media sites to depose virtually by laying down that panel proceedings aren’t held virtually, and they would have to appear in-person on the issue.

In the deposition, Facebook was represented by its country public policy director Shivnath Thukral and general counsel Namrata Singh while Google was represented by its country head (government affairs and public policy) Aman Jain and legal director Gitanjali Duggal.

The sources also said the panel led by Chairman Tharoor expressed serious concern about the privacy of women users of social media platforms. In a show of unity, Tharoor is said to have fired a letter to microblogging site Twitter to explain the reasons why his account and that of India’s IT minister Ravishankar Prasad were blocked for some time.

Source – IndiaToday

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