Google has launched guest mode today. This is a new way to use the Google Assistant on smart devices such as Nest Audio and Nest Hub Max without having to sign in to your Google account. First announced last fall, Guest Mode allows users to use smart speakers and smart displays with the Google Assistant without saving activity, providing a seemingly stronger privacy guarantee.
Maintaining privacy with voice assistants is difficult given the use of state-of-the-art AI technology to infer attributes such as intent, gender, emotional state, and identity from timbre, pitch, and speaker style. It’s a lot of work. Recent reports have revealed accidental audio. Assistant activation reveals private conversations, and a study by researchers at the Clemson University Computing School found that there was a problem with the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice app privacy policies and violated baseline requirements. I understand. When law firms, including Mishcon de Reyahave, talk about client issues at home, they risk advising staff to mute their smart speakers.
With the Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and other major speech recognition platforms, users can delete recorded data, but this requires some (and in some cases significant) work. Guest mode is intended to simplify the Google Assistant with a simple activation phrase. If you say “Hey Google” and turn on guest mode, the Google Assistant will not provide a personalized response or save any interactions to the account logged in to your device. Guest mode remains enabled until it is turned off with the command “Hey Google, turn off guest mode”.
In guest mode, you can enjoy popular features such as asking questions, controlling your smart home device, setting timers, playing music, and more. Until you turn off the mode, your device won’t show any personal results such as calendar entries or contacts, explains Philippe de Lurand Pierre-Paul, Google Assistant Product Manager, in a blog post. When guest mode is turned on, the device will ring a special chime and the guest icon will appear on the display. If you’re not sure if you’re in guest mode, you can always ask your device, “Is guest mode turned on?” Guest mode remains on until you choose to turn it off.
At the end of last year, Google turned off saving upcoming audio recordings for opt-in users and asked all users to decide whether to share their recordings with Google. (Records can be deleted manually or set to expire at 3-month, 18-month, or 36-month intervals.) The company also, like Hey Google, has security that the Google Assistant responds to. And added commands and answers to privacy questions. As I mentioned this week, where can I change my privacy settings?
Technology giants, including Apple and Google, have been the subject of reports revealing potential misuse of recordings collected to improve assistants, including Siri and the Google Assistant. In April 2019, Bloomberg revealed that Amazon will hire contract employees to annotate thousands of hours of audio from Alexa-powered devices, deploying a tool for users to quickly delete data stored in the cloud. I urged you to do it. And in July, a third-party contractor leaked a voice recording of the Google Assistant for Dutch users, including personally identifiable data such as name, address, and other personal information. Following the latter exposure, German privacy authorities briefly ordered Google to stop collecting audio data in Europe for human reviewers.
Increasingly, privacy is more than just a matter of philosophy, it plays an important role in the course of business. State, local, and federal-level laws aim to make privacy an integral part of compliance management. Hundreds of bills addressing privacy, cybersecurity, and data breaches are pending or have already been passed in 50 states, territories, and District of Columbia in the United States. Perhaps the most comprehensive California consumer privacy law of all of them was signed about two years ago. Not to mention the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), businesses must seek approval before disclosing individual health information. In addition, international frameworks such as the EU’s General Privacy Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aim to give consumers more control over the collection and use of personal data.
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