Google quietly records many of the conversations that people have around its products.
The feature works as a way of letting people search with their voice, and storing those recordings presumably lets Google improve its language recognition tools as well as the results that it gives to people.
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. But it’s also a reminder of just how much information is collected about you, and how intimate that information can be.
You’ll see more if you’ve an Android phone, which can be activated at any time just by saying “OK, Google”. But you may well also have recordings on there whatever devices you’ve interacted with Google using.
Remember what Marissa Meyer said about GOOG-411?
GOOG-411 was the “free” Google directory assistance (very similar to Google Voice). Former Googler (and perhaps soon to be former Yahoo!er) Marissa Meyer told Info World years ago that GOOG-411 was not intended to be what it appeared to be:
You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free 411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model … that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.
The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video [such as from YouTube], we can do it with high accuracy.
That’s right–Google told you the product was doing one thing, but in actual fact it was always intended to be something entirely different. The real action was in the background where users couldn’t see it. If Marissa Meyer hadn’t let it slip in an interview, you might never have known.