Over the course of the weekend I saw several different news sites posts articles that went along the lines of “Google has been listening to your voice and recording it”. Here is an example, and another and a third for good measure so you get the idea of what I’m talking about. I watched in befuddled amazement as I saw link after link to these articles on Twitter, Google+ and even my personal Facebook timeline.
This isn’t news folks and the fact that your voice is recorded for, erm, a voice search should not be a shock to anyone. In fact Google has made it clear they would be doing for some time and have always given users the ability to listen to their recordings and delete them. Why this has all of the sudden become a big issue is a surprise to me quite frankly as recordings are both necessary for the service to work and for Google to improve their search algorithms.
First, before everyone jumps all over the panic button, let me explain where you can find your voice search recordings and delete them. Go to http://www.google.com/settings/dashboard and
then find your Audio search content. There you will find every voice recording you have made using “OK Google” or doing voice searches on your devices. You can delete them if you like as well. To be fair, most of the articles over the weekend showed you how to get to this content.
What stuns me though is that this has come as a surprise to so many people. In order for Google to use voice searches, they have to record your voice for two reasons. One, from a caching perspective. Google tries to give you near real time answers to your voice queries. However, there are times with network congestion or a slow connection that it can take time (we are usually talking milliseconds to seconds). Google records your query so it can refer back to it as it is searching for the content you requested.
Google Now Recordings Improve The Service – For You
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Google records your voice searches to improve their services to you. By listening and learning to the countless dialects in the world and how grammar is used throughout, Google can leverage their massive amount of machine learning to ever improve the search results and content. Google has to learn in order for Google Now to work. It’s pretty straightforward. Google voice searches also allow the service to learn how you talk so it can better understand you.
Finally, this is not a conspiracy theory. Google has made it clear in their policies that when you use their services, you are giving them permission to record your voice and collect other data about you and your usage of their services. You can opt out of the personalization of this data (although it will still record your voice with an anonymous filter) so they are not doing anything underhanded. Sure I can see where it would make some folks uncomfortable (BTW, Google also has all your text search too mate… yeah, those searches) but this shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone. Google has a vast amount of information on everyone who users their services, a good chunk of which is anonymous data. That personalized data, like your voice searches, location tracking, etc, is all available to you to see through your account page and other sites.
And don’t think this is just a Google thing. Both Apple with Siri and Microsoft with Cortana record your voice as well.
My point here folks is don’t be surprised by your personal communications to your phone being recorded – be it typed in or spoken to it. All of these platforms, regardless of the name on the sign outside, are ever increasing the amount of data they collect in order to provide you an ever increasing personalized experience. Without recording content, none of these services would work nearly as well as they do today and in the case of Google Now, you can easily get to these recordings to delete if you want.
Embrace the horror and move on to the next crisis.