Is Google listening to my conversations?

Turn audio recordings on or off

  1. Go to your Google Account.
  2. On the left navigation panel, click Data & personalization .
  3. In the Activity controls panel, click Web & App Activity .
  4. Check or uncheck the box next to “Include audio recordings” to turn the setting on or off.

Here you can find and delete most of google’s audio logs of yourself.

In my experience, this could happen even if your wife did a search on her phone. It often happens that I will start getting ads on my phone for things that my wife has been looking at or shopping for on her phone or tablet. For example, she starts looking at area rugs and then I start seeing ads from Ruggable.

And even without that sort of Big Data, there’s also the good old coincidence. Folks have been talking about Them collecting this sort of information on us since long before the technology needed was a glimmer in Their eye, because sometimes, weird coincidences do happen. Add in all of the real data collection that Google et al actually do, and it just gets eerier.

Also add to the coincidences, that sometimes the ad modeling goes horribly wrong, and you see ads for things that have no relation whatsoever to you or to anything you did or said. And you mostly don’t remember those as much. Throw out a bunch of random ads, and some will inevitably seem uncanny.

Of course, Google isn’t refraining from listening to conversations because of some moral position against it. They’ve just calculated the cost of the resources it would need to do it, and calculated the value of the data they’d get from it, and coldly concluded that the value isn’t worth the cost. Maybe that’ll change someday, as the computing resources needed get cheaper, and then they will start listening to conversations to help target ads. But they’re not there yet.

And it doesn’t support your point. The article specifically says that they are not listening to your conversations. While some of the concerns are valid, it’s not the same as what is being asked in this thread. In many ways, it’s similar to your phone tracking your location through a variety of methods.

Yes, it’s technically possible to listen to conversations happening around a phone. But there are other ways to gather the information that are already happening that make the audio eavesdropping less appealing.

Count me in the “No your phone isn’t listening to you” camp. Because I watched the same doc @solost did.

The algorithms are just that good.

Other things to consider:
Did you buy pet scratchy product around this time last year?
Did you use a reward card to make said purchase?

The internet gods know you have an itchy dog. They’ve obtained this information a hundred different ways. But not by listening to you.

Is Google listening to my conversations?
Do I care?

Google isn’t listening to all your conversations. However, for ‘quality assurance’ sometimes when Google Assistant (or Siri or Amazon’s Alexa) would get a wake-up command and then be unable to parse what was said, the failed audio will be uploaded so engineers can improve recognition.

These audio clips can be listened to by real people, and there are stories of salacious audio captures being passed around, such as people accidentally triggering their phone while having sex, and the google/amazon engineers get to listen in on the session for yucks.

We do not have any Google or Amazon ‘smart’ devices with microphones. And my family keeps Siri switched off at all times. Any laptop with a camera has a physical cover over the lens unless it is being used.

You’re not crazy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me way too many times to believe otherwise.

Typically for me, it’s more that my wife and I start discussing something, and then when I go to search for it, I get like 3 letters in, and what we were talking about is the first result. Way too convenient to be coincidental. Or less often, we’ll discuss something out loud, and start seeing banner ads concerning it when we go to search for it.

That said, I do think they can make VERY good predictions about what you might want to search for and how you may search for it. I’ve had several times where I’ve merely thought about something, then gone to search for it, and had it show up very high in the search results. Which tells me that either a lot of people search for whatever it is in a similar way to me, or they’re profiling me to figure out what I might search for and how I might phrase that to present me the answers I’m looking for first. I tend to lean toward the second one because they’re often kind of obscure searches.

I’ve tested it before and it didn’t work (wife and I started saying the same word/product over n over again for a few hours). However, after thinking about it, I don’t dictate the ads. There first has to be a company that is paying to have their product advertised. Then, if I’m a good target, I would get the ad.

For example, the OP would not have received the itchy dog product ad if no company was paying to have it advertised.

What freaks me out is that I get ads for stuff I never told anyone I was looking for. I only THOUGHT about it. But then I realized that my phone automatically joins Walmart’s WiFi when I enter the store (I must have used their WiFi once – there is no cell service in the back of the store). Therefore, Walmart knows who I am and that I am in the store. They may notice that I’m lingering in a particular section, but maybe didn’t make a purchase from that section. So, they sell that information and suddenly I see ads for that stuff without ever saying a word about it.

Like always, this is probably just confirmation bias. You remember the times where you think about something and then get an ad. But you don’t remember all the times you thought about something and didn’t get an ad. Or all the ads you got that were completely irrelevant.

You keep telling everyone to carefully read your links, but it’s pretty clear to me that you yourself didn’t read them carefully.

Your cite, despite its clickbait headline of “Your Phone is Secretly Always Recording,” states “Before you say this wake phrase, your phone is listening for the keywords, but is not recording everything you say and uploading it to Google.”

The link to digitalalphabet (with its own misleading, sensationalized clickbait headline which you have so graciously enlarged and bolded in one of your posts) is actually referencing a VRT article about third-party contractors hired to analyze voice assistant data who then necessarily also had access to some false accept data. That was a major fuck up for Google, Apple and Amazon. They all should have make it clear to the users that that was happening. But that isn’t evidence that your phone is constantly listening to you and sending the data back. In fact, if it were true that your phone was constantly listening (meaning beyond the wake word inquires), those very contractors would probably be the ones to have had access to that mountain of data. Yet none of them ever made such a claim.

The article states “The apps would would not listen for human speech, and require explicit, affirmative approval from the user before listening in.”

The Samsung smart tv debacle, which Samsung was rightly roasted for, was from 7 years ago and it was - wait for it- a tv, not a phone.

And the lawsuit that mentions? Putting aside the fact that filing a lawsuit isn’t evidence of anything other than someone filed a lawsuit, you yourself quoted the important part: “The case stems from so-called false accepts.” In other words, either the user accidentally engaged the voice assistant or the voice assistant accidentally interpreted an innocuous phrase as the wake word. That isn’t anything at all like the topic of this thread.

I’m sorry, but your “excellent resources” are pretty terrible at providing evidence for your position and some of them even explicitly state the opposite case.

This seems like one of those scenarios where confirmation bias would play a really big part in skewing the picture. In a big world with lots of things happening, coincidences that are significant get emphatically spoken about “OMG, I was talking to the wife about my itchy balls, and then straight after that* I got an ad for ointment!”.
Nobody is going to talk about all the times they got an ointment ad right after they were talking about hats or fried eggs or alligators or turnips or tractors or clouds or buckets or seaglass or pensions, or paragliding or belt buckles or nail varnish or pork pies or earwax or curtains or bananas or traffic lights or shoes or ships or sealing wax

*also, ‘X happened straight after Y’ often really means 'X happened while I could still remember Y’

Whenever I notice a series of freaky coincidences, I typically ascribe it to confirmation bias as well…when I look at the clock just before lunch, it always says 11:11. Crazy! But I’m forgetting all the times I looked and it was 11:09 or whatever.

But in this case I think @Drum_God is right to be freaked. I think I heard that Cambridge Analytica used to brag that it had something like 2,000 data points on 2/3 of the entire USA. Our entire demographic makeup has been recorded: how old we are; income range; zip code (which apparently says a lot— similar people cluster, makes sense); what we watch, what we eat, etc etc etc. They don’t just know what we’re thinking, they know what we’ll think in another 3-5 years when we move to a new age demographic.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that companies are collating behaviour data about us - in fact, it’s pretty well documented that they are.
I don’t think it’s impossible that smart devices could be listening in on our conversations to target us with ads. I don’t think they are; if for no other reason than that there are other, way more effective and economic methods to target ads.

Probably not?

There is no doubt that many companies collect your information and collate it in ways that provide a picture, accurate or not, that may be sold to advertisers and third parties.

It would make little sense to have someone do this in person just to sell ads. Someone, however, has almost certainly tried to automate the process and I would guess they do not need someone physically listening to do a pretty complete job of it.

Companies do not always have a great history of making it easy to stop the collection of data or stop collecting data when apparently asked to do so. Though my conversations are dull I tend to assume that they are not anonymous. However, I do not think someone is actively listening in real time.

I have an iPhone not Android, I haven’t noticed any suspicious ads on my desktop Mac where I do most of my browsing.

Itchy dogs… try talking about sex toys and see what pops up.

nm nm nm

Everyone is listening to your conversations.
Big Tech.
KFC (they’re wondering why you don’t eat chicken more often.)
And, of course, we at the SDMB Society have been monitoring you since your childhood, laughing madly at Our Unsuspecting Dupe all the while.

Stay in view.


Nope, Google is not listening. The phone is continuously monitoring the input to the mic to be able to react and activate the Assistant after you say “ok Google”. But the model that recognizes “ok Google” runs locally on your phone, i.e., no data is sent to Google, your speech is processed directly by your device and nothing is stored, not even locally.

Now after the phone recognizes OkG, then Google has to listen to you in order to fulfill your request, and if you don’t like that then you can just disable the Assistant altogether.

I agree with previous posts that what you experienced is just a combination of confirmation bias and clever ad placing algorithms.

It is also possible that while you and your partner were talking, your phone might have wrongly recognized you saying “ok Google” (the model is not perfect, and false positives do occur, albeit rarely), and your next sentence may have contained a reference to the itchiness, an itchiness product or something otherwise related to it. The Assistant might have tried to look it up for you, and the search term being in your history would have caused you to get related ads. You can easily verify if this is the case by looking into your search history.