Google is on the receiving end of a proposed class action lawsuit filed by consumers who allege the search giant’s retention of voice recordings created by anyone who happens to speak near a device equipped with Google Assistant violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
Filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the case explains Google Assistant is akin to “smart” voice-based applications such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. According to the lawsuit, more than one billion Google Assistant-capable devices have been sold as of January 2019.
In an effort to improve its voice and speech recognition technology, Google, the lawsuit says, retains “every voice recording created by the user and any individual who happens to be speaking near the Google Assistant device.” Google keeps not only the initial question or command uttered by the user, the case says, but also follow-up statements or questions. Google Assistant also listens to and records what people say even when no trigger words are spoken, the suit claims, noting that Google has recently revealed that it employs contractors to listen to consumers’ voice recordings.
The complaint argues that consumers’ voiceprints constitute biometric data under the BIPA, which requires companies to adhere to strict information retention schedules and develop written data retention, dissemination and destruction policies, among other mandates, when collecting and storing biometric identifiers. From the complaint:
“When companies like Google decide to collect, capture, purchase, receive through trade or otherwise obtain a person or customers’ biometric identifier or biometric information, it must first:
Inform the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative in writing that a biometric identifier or biometric information is being collected or stored;
Inform the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative in writing of the specific purpose and length of term for which a biometric identifier or biometric information is being collected, stored, and used; and
Receive a written release executed by the subject of the biometric identifier or biometric information or the subject’s legally authorized representative.”
According to the plaintiffs, Google “disregards these statutorily imposed” regulations in failing to inform proposed class members that their biometric information is being collected and/or stored, as well as securing written releases to do so.