Making the headlines this week is a discovery that Google has been secretly recording user conversations and storing them. This seems to be more than just saving your Google Now searches.
I’ve personally heard many stories of people (friends and family) who have noticed that certain elements of conversations, like wondering which restaurant to visit, have appeared in Google Now, even though they didn’t activate that feature. A YouTube video by Unbox Therapy even shows random conversations being recorded by Google in the background.
So far, this appears only to affect Android phones. On iPhones, the platform gives you a little more control over which functions each app can use. For example, I don’t allow the Facebook app to use my iPhone’s microphone because it doesn’t seem to be just Google; Facebook has also recently been accused of recording conversations to sell ads.
“Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads…We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio…”
How To Access Voice History
Here’s how to listen to and delete your voice history. Google has a voice and audio activity page, although it doesn’t seem to make it easy to find. Visit history.google.com, and look for Voice & Audio Activity.
From there, you can listen to and mass-delete the audio files that Google has stored. When you delete them, you’ll see a popup saying: “Deleting Voice & Audio Activity may reduce the accuracy of speech recognition across Google products…” If you’re certain you want to proceed, then just click the delete button on the popup.
As I pointed out in a previous article, this is where we trade privacy for convenience. It’s unknown whether Google is using your voice recordings to sell ads, but I doubt it. I’ll be optimistic (and less conspiratorial) and say that Google probably does use the audio files to help improve our use of its services like Google Now.
I give props to Google for being more transparent about its services, and putting together an official user account page to let people know what’s going on behind the scenes. But it can be unnerving to hear recordings of your voice stored somewhere on a Google server, hearing yourself asking Google for every little inane thing.