CES 2020: Google Assistant adds new privacy and scheduling features

Users can delete a record of a command by saying, 'Hey Google, that wasn't for you'.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Journalist on
Image: Google

At this year's CES, Google announced on Tuesday all of the new capabilities it's adding to its voice assistant, including various additions to the way it handles privacy.

One of the Assistant's new privacy features will allow users to delete a record of the most recent command by saying, "Hey Google, that wasn't for you". 

This means users can delete voice records immediately if someone else starts a separate conversation in the background, or if the user decides that what was said should not be shared, according to Google.
Users can also ask "Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?" to learn about their privacy controls and go directly into the settings screen to change their preferences, as well as delete voice assistant activity from a Google Account by saying things like "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week."

The Assistant has had its fair share of privacy concerns, with Google confirming in August that third-party workers were "systematically listening" and leaking private Dutch conversations collected by the assistant. 

Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS revealed that more than 1,000 files had been leaked from these workers, including recordings from instances where users accidentally triggered Google's software. After the incident, Google paused all of its language review operations. 

Last week, a Reddit user discovered that he could see scenes from other people's homes when he connected his Google Nest Hub to a camera made by Xiaomi. Since this was publicised, Google has disabled Nest Hub integration from all Xiaomi devices.

These new privacy features come not too long after Google decided to revamp its Assistant privacy policy last year. The changes from last year included Google making it default for the voice assistant to not retain audio recordings once a request is fulfilled, meaning that users have to opt-in to let Google keep any voice recordings made by the device. It also added a feature that allows users to review and delete past, historical audio recordings.

Google is not the only company to have come under fire for its usage of audio data. Amazon was the first firm to be criticised after it was discovered last year that human operators eavesdropped on Alexa device interactions. 

Other additions to the Assistant announced by Google on Tuesday include the ability to schedule certain tasks. For example, users that have a Google Home-integrated washer or dryer can schedule a load of laundry with the Assistant. This feature is set to be rolled out later this year.

Along with this, Google has added support for various new smart device categories such as AC units, coffee makers, vacuums, and smart bathtubs, among others.

Google also gave insight into how many people are using its voice assistant, saying at CES that over 500 million people use the Assistant every month and that there are currently over 1 billion devices that can use it. 

See all of ZDNet's CES coverage here.

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