From turning on the lights to searching for a recipe, the ability to control our gadgets with our voices seems like something out of science fiction. But it's very real. Just pull up a Google search on your browser and you'll see a microphone logo that allows you to say your question rather than type it. All you have to say is "Ok Google" and your Android smartphone or Google Home will jump to action to help you out.
But this convenience comes with a cost: Google is always listening, and when you ask a question it records you and sends that recording back to Google's servers. These recordings are kept forever, or until you ask Google to delete them — which we have to say is a little creepy.
This is just how Google's voice features work (and how many other voice features work, too). In order to jump into action when you say "Ok Google," it has to listen for that keyword. When the device hears you, it records what you say (plus a little before and after) and sends it to Google to find out what to do next because your gadget just isn't smart enough to know on its own. It's the smarts on Google's servers that figure out what you're saying, find the information you're looking for and send it back to you.
That all makes sense. But why does Google hang on to the data after that? According to the company, "Google collects data that's meant to make our services faster, smarter, more relevant, and more useful to you. Google Home learns over time to provide better and more personalized suggestions and answers." While Google isn't exactly spying on you, it does use your saved voice searches — and everyone else's — to improve its voice recognition, training its servers to understand different accents and dialects. (As of now, Google has suspended its practice of manual review of Assistant voice recordings by people.) The end result is that it's easier to ask Google questions and get better results.
For instance, when our editor asked her Google Home "OK Google, when does Rainbow close?" it knew that she was referring to a nearby store and gave her the store hours.
Still, you may not want Google to have an log of your voice recordings. Fortunately, it's easy to delete. Just go to the Voice & Audio Activity page on Google (you'll have to be logged in to see it). You'll be able to see everything you've asked Google via voice and delete anything you'd like.
To delete specific recordings from the Voice & Audio Activity page:
- Scroll to the recording you want to delete
- Click details under the item
- Click More > Delete
To delete all recordings from the Voice & Audio Activity page:
- On the top right select More
- Select Delete activity by
- Under Delete By Date select the down arrow to choose All Time
- At the bottom of the page click Delete > Delete
You can also disable recording entirely, but be aware this will disable all voice search functionality. There's no option to have Google delete voice searches immediately after processing them. But if that's what you want, here's how to do it:
- Go to the Activity Controls page
- Toggle the Voice & Audio Activity option off
Want to keep using voice search features without Google keeping your data forever? You'll have to clean up your history manually on a regular basis. We recommend setting a reminder in your favorite calendar or to-do app.
Originally published on 4/4/2017, last updated on 8/5/2019
[Image credit: Google]