The commercial release of always-listening electronic devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home has sparked newfound outrage over the idea that corporations, and even the government, can now secretly listen in on people’s private conversations. But truth be told, Google has already been doing this type of thing for years with its popular search engine portal, which is fully capable of tracking what you type and search, and even what you say.
A new report by the Independent (U.K.) explains how Google is able to record and store the private conversations of its users who are logged into their accounts. Google account holders can log in and actually look at a full history of their internet searches, their browsing history, and even conversations that were recorded by Google via built-in computer microphones.
Not every Google user is tracked like this, but many are, the report claims. Google says it records users for the purpose of better recognizing their voices, which in turn helps improve the functionality of Google’s various language recognition tools. By going to Google’s history page while logged into their accounts, users will find a full listing of whatever Google has captured about them, including random conversations of people who may have been near the computer recording them without them knowing it.
“The recordings can function as a kind of diary, reminding you of the various places and situations that you and your phone have been in,” The Independent explains. “But it’s also a reminder of just how much information is collected about you, and how intimate that information can be.”
The way these types of systems work, particularly on smartphones, is that they are always listening and are voice activated. Some of the latest Android phones, for instance, can be activated at any time by a user simply saying out loud, “Okay, Google.” Similarly, the latest Apple iPhones are equipped with technology that lets users speak directly to “Siri” without even having to press a button.
In order to hear a person talking, though, these devices have to always be listening. Their manufacturers claim that they only identify the key words that activate them, and regard the rest of the chatter as white noise. But it’s clear with Google’s search engine capabilities that the tech giant has the ability to record entire conversations and store them online.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s also possible for video to be captured of people who use smartphones and laptop computers that have a little “eye” camera at the top-middle of the screen. These cameras can be activated without ever indicating to the user that they’re on, and the footage captured can potentially be sent to a third-party source without the user knowing it.
An FBI official told The Independent that individuals who value their privacy and don’t want to be secretly watched should cover up their smartphone and laptop cameras with a sticker or some other obstruction to avoid being filmed. It’s also a good idea to go to Google’s history page and delete what’s there.
One can do this by visiting the History page on Google, selecting individual files by clicking the appropriate check box on the left, and choosing “delete.” To delete all Google recordings, select the “More” button, select “Delete options,” choose “Advanced,” and click through to delete all. After doing this, turning off Google’s virtual assistant and avoid the use of voice search to prevent further audio tracking.
“Google’s motto of Don’t Be Evil now seems less like a request for its users and more like a way of keeping themselves in check,” says AnonNews.co.
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