It’s happened to all of us: you’re talking to your friend about some random topic like cat food. Then, about an hour and a half later, you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see an ad for—cat food! Many internet users have concerns about smart home speakers and artificial intelligence assistants potentially listening in to our conversations and recording us. This data could be used to target ads, but there’s no way to truly tell how Google is using it. 

Does Google listen to our conversations? Google has recently admitted to their devices being able to accidentally get triggered to listen to users, and that they have analysts on staff to review conversations to improve the device’s functionality. 

Continue reading to learn more about your Google Assistant’s ability to listen in on your conversations, as well as some tips to protect your privacy.

Is Google Listening to Us?

Google’s family of devices will only have access to your voice after you set up a smart speaker or give the Google Assistant app permission to use your smartphone’s microphone. This is because it needs to be triggered by either pressing the microphone icon on your device or smartphone or by using the wake command, “Ok Google.”

The microphone will always be turned on so it can listen for this trigger phrase and respond to your requests quickly. This phrase also triggers your device to listen and record your voice.

However, Google says that sometimes, the voice assistant could be triggered to listen to your conversations by accident. They even said some of those recordings could be sent for review by their analysts. Google stated that they have human contractors who listen to some users’ conversations so that the devices will be better able to understand many different languages.

Fortunately, Google claimed that only 0.2 percent of audio recordings were actually analyzed by their reviewers. 

Third-Party Listeners

Because your phone stays connected to so many apps with permission to access your microphone, third-party apps like Instagram and Facebook may also be getting a hold of these voice recordings. This is where you may see a bunch of targeted ads pop up after you had a conversation about that product.

Voice recordings on your Google devices may also affect the search suggestions you get. If you are talking to a friend or family member about a question you have, like how tall Mt Everest is, pay attention to your AutoComplete search suggestions. If you type “how” into the search bar, see if the AutoComplete finishes your search by suggesting “tall is Mt. Everest.” This type of intelligent technology can be both impressive and a tad scary.

How to Protect Your Privacy

Your smart speakers will always need to be on in order to listen for their wake word. However, this may not mean the device is always recording you. If you are worried about your privacy and security when it comes to Google listening to you, you can take the following steps to adjust your privacy settings:

Delete Voice Recordings

You can delete recorded voice snippets manually from your Google account. Or, you can also set them to automatically delete after a certain length of time, like every three months. To manage your privacy, visit your account page and select settings.

Disable Ok Google

If you do not want the voice recording issue at all, you can disable the “Ok Google” trigger command. 

  1. Visit your Settings for the Google app. 
  2. Select Search & Now, then tap Voice.
  3. Turn the “Ok Google” detection off.

Is Listening to My Conversations Illegal?

No, it is not illegal for Google to listen to your conversations and allow companies to use that data for marketing efforts. There are privacy laws and user agreements in place that allow this. The act of recording and using voice data helps create carefully targeted ads, which is appealing to many companies and marketers.

Google and Facebook even make it a goal to protect user data from third parties or hackers that could use this information for the negative.

In this case, voice recording may not be as much of a security danger to you, but potentially a helpful shopping guide. At worst, it can just be an annoying ad that follows you around the internet.

Learn More About Data and Smart Home Tech

Smart home devices can truly be a great help around your home. They can help you stay connected to all your devices and protect your loved ones and belongings when you’re away. However, it can be a bit daunting to know that your smart speakers are listening 24/7. 

Make a plan to learn more about your smart home technology and understand your options for privacy. Smart home manufacturers often try to be pretty transparent with how your data will be used.