Google Voice Search and Privacy

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Google Maps voice search on Android 4.4 KitKat

It sure sounds convenient to simply speak a search term and have Google send back or even read you your search results.

Yet have you ever noticed how Google is pushing voice search on recent versions of Android such as KitKat? Every time you open up Google Maps and tap on the search field, it reminds you that voice search is available.

Besides the aforementioned convenience, there is a whole other aspect of why Google would be interested in you using your voice to search: to find out your gender and agemood and probably a lot more information that can be derived from the sound of your voice. Such information is extremely valuable when deciding which ads are relevant to you. In turn, the more relevant an ad is, the higher the chance of you reacting to it which in turn lets Google charge advertisers higher rates and therefore make more money.

In other words, Google stores millions of voice recordings […] Google creates an electronic key that links your speech samples with your Google Account. […] people within Google can access these keys […]

Excerpt from Google’s support page about Personalized Voice Recognition on Dec 30, 2013.

What this means for your privacy is that by using any form of voice search on Google services, the company will be able to silently deduct information about you from the sound of your voice that you might not be willing to disclose to them. For example, you might have entered an incorrect year of birth or gender on purpose when signing up for your Google account. By using voice search, Google will be able to determine that the information you entered does not match the voice pattern of the person actually using the account and make an internal database entry with your real profile data. In a post-Snowden world it is also very plausible that this information is then accessible by government spy agencies, even without the knowledge of Google.

Android Voice Search Settings in Android 4.4. KitKat

Android Voice Search Settings in Android 4.4. KitKat

In this context, you might be inclined to turn personalized search off. Unfortunately, even though previous versions of Android apparently let you disable personalization, the information on Google’s help pages appears outdated, as I could not find this setting anywhere in Android 4.4 KitKat. Therefore, with Google’s stance of trying to collect as much information about people as possible, I think it is safe to assume that personalized voice search is now always on and can no longer be turned off.

Thus, if you’re not happy to disclose your gender, age, mood and other personal information to Google on a regular basis, you should stay away from voice search.

Note: While I talk about Google specifically, any other voice recognition service such as Apple’s Siri can equally be suspected of gathering personal information about you from your voice patterns.


Facebook, the Skinner Box

Found a great talk by Cory Doctorow today via Netzpolitik, where he discusses a psychological mechanism Facebook uses to get users to frequently return to the site and to disclose more and more personal information.

The psychological reward or kick apparently created when receiving attention from peers as a result of posting something personal ties right in with observations made by game design expert Jesse Schell, who researched the game mechanics of popular games that use psychological tricks to keep players to return again and again as well as to spend money. If you have a few more minutes to spare, you should definitely watch his very insightful talk about what makes the success of some these games as well as how game mechanics could be used to make people exhibit certain behavior in non-gaming contexts: Continue reading

In Facebook we trust?

Consider this alleged conversation between Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and a friend which supposedly took place shortly after Facebook was launched:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb fucks.


Leaving aside if this conversation actually happened or not, the second last statement highlights what I think has been the key reason for Facebook’s growth: Continue reading

Owned? Legal terms of video hosting services compared

For the Air Canada article I was researching a video hosting service that would match my requirements of:

  1. Which rights of my work I would have to give away,
  2. what usage rights I could assign to my viewers,
  3. what level of privacy I could expect in terms of disclosure of my data,
  4. and where a service had its legal residence in case of a dispute.

I’ve decided to collect and extend my findings in this post in the hope that it can help others in choosing their preferred video hosting service.

A summary is provided at the end of this post, based on my understanding of the legal terms as a non-lawyer. All excerpts were made on April 25, 2009 unless otherwise stated. Emphasis and comments mine.

Continue reading