SHARE
COPY LINK

TECHNOLOGY

Germany orders Google to stop listening in on audio recordings

A German data protection official has convinced Google to stop human workers from listening to audio recorded by its digital assistant across the EU, after a leak showed staff could hear private conversations.

Germany orders Google to stop listening in on audio recordings
Google Home (left) and Amazon Echo are equipped with Google Assistant and Alexa. Photo: DPA

“To provisionally protect the rights of privacy of data subjects for the time being,” Hamburg commissioner for data protection Johannes Caspar had begun the legal procedure to stop the practice for three months from August 1st.

That is the maximum duration allowed under the European Union's GDPR privacy legislation.

Preempting a legal order, Google said it would suspend human evaluation across the 28-nation EU for that period, Caspar's office said in a statement Thursday.

Earlier this month, Dutch-language conversations recorded by Google Assistant, the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered system for voice interactions, were leaked to Belgian broadcaster VRT.

Audio files included discussions of users' love lives and children, as well as containing personal data like addresses.

The Californian company suspects the leak came from a language expert who had been contracted to help improve voice recognition by comparing the recordings against the AI's transcripts.

But it insisted that human listeners had access to at most 0.2 percent of audio data and that the files were not tied to user accounts.

It also highlighted that users have the option to deactivate archiving of data files or regularly delete them automatically.

READ ALSO: How a grassroots group in Berlin took on Google – and won

'Full review'

“We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” Google said.

“Employees commissioned by Google were able to gather personal information – some of it sensitive – within the private and intimate sphere of the persons concerned,” the data commissioner's office said.

The authority added that the devices on offer from the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google are “proving to be highly risky for the privacy of those affected”.

READ ALSO: Opinion: How Hesse's privacy ban on school software hurts students

Not only owners of the gadgets risk their private information reaching unwanted ears, but also “all those who come into contact with it” like other members of the household or guests.

“Other providers of speech assistance systems, such as Apple or Amazon, are invited to also swiftly review the implementation of appropriate measures,” Caspar's office said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TECHNOLOGY

12 useful bureaucratic things you can do online in Germany

Germany might be notorious for its paperwork and bureaucratic office wait times, but there are increasingly more things you can take care of from the comfort of your home.

12 useful bureaucratic things you can do online in Germany
Photo: DPA

Moving to Germany from a country that has fully embraced the digital age can mean being surprised at having to buy a stamp instead of filling out an online form. Many have lamented Germany’s less than fast transition onto the online world. 

Partly due to Covid-19 contact restrictions that have been in place in recent months, more and more things in Germany have now gone online and many hope that Germany is, as one Twitter user joked, ‘’slowly approaching the technical level of 1996″ and now entering the 21st century.

READ ALSO: How the pandemic is bringing German bureaucracy out of the 1980s

Before the pandemic, many German offices (including the Bundestag) used fax machines. Photo: DPA

Coronavirus specific:

Ummeldung

Obtaining a document that proves you have a residence in Germany is often the first step to registering for multiple other essential services.

Prior to the crisis, this meant obtaining an appointment and waiting in line. Due to the pandemic, you can now register by post or email. 

However, you can only do this if you have previously registered, and so it only applies to those changing their address – an Ummeldung.

You can email or mail the documents necessary to the Burgeramt in your new district, and they will take a few weeks or days to reply.

Registration of entry into Germany

Those travelling back into Germany from a risk area have to register upon entry to ensure proper quarantine regulations are upheld. Due to the pandemic, this process can be done online via a form found here.

Opening a bank account

Some banks, such as N26, let you open a bank account entirely online. You may be required to verify your identity, which you can also do online via webcam or email verification code.

Benefits

Elterngeld

If you and your partner recently welcomed a baby, you might be able to receive parental allowance (Elterngeld) which is a benefit given to all new parents to subside potential loss of earnings caused by the birth of a new child.

The benefit is shared between parents to give both the time to spend time with a newborn. This can now for the first time be done online, by following this form here.

Kindergeld

On the same note it is also now possible to apply for Kindergeld via an online form. Kindergeld is a monthly benefit given to all parents in Germany, to ensure that their basic needs are met.

Both Kindergeld and Elterngeld can now be filled out in one document – a Kombi-Antrag online – although they must still be printed out, signed and sent to the relevant office. 

READ ALSO: From Kindergeld to tax benefits: What changes for families in Germany in 2021

Arbeitslosengeld 

Most people are entitled to Arbeitslosengeld if they have lost their job, and also in some cases if they have quit and are on the lookout for a new position.

An important part of receiving this unemployment benefit is registering in time (usually around three months) which you can do online here. It is important to note however, that you still have to book an appointment at your local office to finish the process.

BAföG

BAföG provides crucial financial support to students during their studies. Whilst foreign students are only eligible subject to certain requirements, the application process can be done online by following this link.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Medical

Prescriptions via QR code

From July 1st, patients will receive their prescription from their doctor via QR code and app and transmit it to the pharmacy. The pharmacy can then inform the patient whether the preparation is in stock or when it will be ready for collection. 

This model is to be mandatory for people with statutory health insurance as early as 2022, and is set to completely replace the paper prescription.

Sick notes submitted electronically to health insurance

Until now, employees had to submit their sick note (Krankenschein) to the insurer themselves when they called in sick at work.

An ‘Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung’, or sick note, which until now the employee submits directly to their employer after receiving it from a doctor. Photo: DPA

As of January, this can be done electronically: the doctor will then send the so-called eAU (electronic certificate of incapacity for work) directly to the insurer. However, the patient will still receive a paper certificate which they can pass on to their employer.

From 2022, the employer will also be able to retrieve the sickness notification directly from the health insurance company.

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to ditch paper sick notes for digital ones

Tax

Register and pay your TV tax

Although the majority may not enjoy having to pay TV tax monthly (especially if they don’t have or use a TV) you can make the process less painful by now registering your flat and setting up a payment method online.

Apply for a tax number

Your tax number, or Steuernummer can also be collected online. It is useful primarily for freelancers and businesses. The form can be filled out online and submitted to the Finanzamt, or tax office. You can find help filling out the form in English here. If you own a business, and it moves to a different Finanzamt’s area, your tax number will also change. 

File taxes

Again, especially relevant for freelancers or those self-employed, you can use ELSTER, an online tax office system designed by the Budeszentralamt fur Steuern, or the Central Tax Office to submit your tax returns online.

The first step is to create an account and either choose to auto-fill in the form or fill it in yourself. You will receive a digital signature and be able to fill out your forms and submit them online.

SHOW COMMENTS