If you use voice recognition systems like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Now or Microsoft’s Cortana there is a good chance that the company has been recording your commands – and you agreed to it via the terms and conditions
After controversy earlier this month over televisions recording owners and sending the clips to third parties, smartphone owners are now discovering that companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are also recording voice commands and storing them for up to two years.
Modern televisions are able to change channels, alter volume or even look up information on films via voice command. But controversy erupted on internet forums earlier this month when it was noticed that the terms and conditions for some such services – invariably skipped over due to their length and impenetrable language – allow companies to send recordings of tricky commands to third parties for interpretation.
Often these recordings are not encrypted, so are potentially vulnerable to hackers, and the recordings will capture personal conversations as easily as legitimate commands.
Now frustrated users are discovering that voice commands issued to smartphones are also being recorded and stored. And unlike relatively straightforward commands made to a television, smartphone commands could reveal information on current locations, contacts, calendar entries or finances, making any sharing more sensitive.
In a post on Reddit one man claims to work for a company called Walk ‘N’ Talk Technologies, comparing recorded voice clips to the meaning extracted by computers and rating them for accuracy.
“I realised that I was hearing peoples’ commands given to their mobile devices,” he said. “I’m telling you, if you’ve said it to your phone, it’s been recorded… and there’s a damn good chance a third party is going to hear it. I’ve heard more text-to-speech sexting than I care to.”
Although there appears to be no evidence for the existence of any company by that name, audio is certainly being recorded in the manner described, by admission of tech companies.
Google says openly on its support pages that it records all of your voice commands issued to its Now service and saves them to “improve speech recognition”.
Users can even access their own recordings by visiting their account history dashboard while logged-in.
It is possible to make these recordings anonymous so that they are not linked directly to your account, using an option called “Voice & Audio Activity”, but there is no way to stop them from being recorded and stored.
Microsoft also has a similar voice-command feature called Cortana, and the company admits that it uses “proprietary technologies such as, for example, acoustic and natural language processing models to record and interpret your request”.
Apple’s Siri feature works in a similar way, and the company has previously disclosed that voice recordings are kept for up to two years .
The company collates these clips independently of your true identity by creating customer numbers. After six months these numbers are disassociated from the clips, but the recordings can be kept for a further 18 months for testing purposes to help it improve its service.
Google, Microsoft and Apple declined to comment when asked how they handle the recorded clips and what they are used for.
This article was written by Matthew Sparkes Deputy Head of Technology from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.