Humans are listening to your Google Home recordings again, but this time it's different. What to know

Google Booth CES 2020
Google Booth CES 2020

Google announced it’s bringing back human reviewers to listen to snippets of commands given to Google Assistant, which typically start with either “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google.”


James Martin/CNET

You probably assume the only one listening when you say, “Hey, Google” is Google Assistant — the digital, artificially-intelligent helper behind your Google Home devices. That’s been the case for almost a year now, ever since public outcry over the practice of humans listening to your recordings prompted Google to join several other tech companies in halting its human review program. But a recent announcement by the company indicates that’s about to change. But only if you want it to.

Last week, Google sent an email to just about anyone who’s ever interacted with Google apps, services or devices using their voice — including Google Home users — letting them know their voice recordings are no longer being saved. The email includes a link if you’d like to opt-in (or back in), but also lets you know that doing so means your voice recordings might now be heard by human reviewers.

Here’s what you need to know about what the change means for your privacy, what happens if you opt in and how long Google would save your recordings.

What’s different about Google Home’s new privacy policy?

Nothing is different about Google Assistant’s privacy policy per se (Google’s terms of service haven’t been updated or changed). What’s different are Google’s procedures under those policies and possibly your privacy settings as well.

Basically, Google is going back to having human beings review some of the voice recordings that get saved when people interact with its assistant. It has now stopped saving those recordings wholesale, unless users opt-in to the program. (Here’s a direct link to the Google privacy setting if you’d like to check it out or change it.)

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Google Home is listening…


Dale Smith/CNET

What voice recordings?

Google records your voice any time you summon Google Assistant by saying the wake words “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google,” whether that’s through a Google Home smart speaker or display or an Android phone or tablet. Also, Google captures a recording any time you use your voice to dictate to Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail or any other Google service. Google sometimes accidentally records when something you or someone else (even someone on TV) says sounds too much like Google’s wake words.

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Google Home listens 24 hours per day for its wake words, then translates whatever is said afterward into commands.


Taylor Martin/CNET

Those recordings are then processed on a remote server and translated into commands, which Google Assistant then carries out, usually on the device you gave the command to (but also on other devices like smart bulbs, thermostats, etc.)

 This setting change controls whether those recordings are immediately deleted or saved in the cloud for six months, 18 months or until you manually delete them.

Why would I want to opt-in? What’s in it for me?

Google’s email to customers reads, in part, “Saved audio recordings help improve our audio recognition technologies, so products like Google Assistant can understand language even better in the future.” But other than the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping Google make their products better (if you find that sort of thing satisfying, anyway), there’s really not much in it for you.

What happens if I stay opted-out? What’s the downside?

Other than not being able to access a record of all the commands you’ve issued to Google Home or Google Assistant, it seems that nothing about your actual user experience will change.

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You may not want Google to keep a recording of things said privately in your home.


James Martin/CNET

Can I save my recordings but not opt-in to human review?

It doesn’t appear so. The choice seems an all-or-nothing kind of thing. You either agree to let Google save your recordings and possibly have human reviewers listen in, or you don’t.

Will human reviewers know who I am if I opt-in?

Apparently not. According to a video on the privacy setting’s page, Google doesn’t send full recordings (only “snippets”) and it anonymizes the data before it does so. So, it looks like human reviewers won’t be able to trace your voice recording back to your specific Google account.

How long will Google hold onto my voice recordings?

If you created your account after June 24, Google will hold onto your personal data (including voice recordings) for 18 months before deleting it. If your account is older than that, the default is to never delete it, but you can change it to six or 18 months.

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Google Home smart speakers occasionally light up and listen even if you didn’t say the wake words.


Ian Knighton/CNET

If you want to tinker under the hood a bit, we have both a guide to changing your global Google privacy settings and a separate guide for Google Home privacy settings.  

Google Home privacy settings aren’t the only toggles you might want to fiddle with. Consider these five settings you should change right away, make sure you have these music settings set right and tweaking this setting is a must if you have more than one Google Home smart speaker.

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