Google Fires Back in Assisstant Privacy Case

Google filed a reply in an effort to dismiss the plaintiff’s consolidated amended class action complaint in the case now known as In re Google Assistant Privacy Litigation.  The complaint alleged Google listened to conversations without keyword indication and user consent. Google countered that Plaintiff’s allegations are insufficient and do not provide evidence of wrongdoing.

The case concerns Google Assistant, a voice-recognition software program that allows users to speak to and pose questions, which it answers based on information available online. Google Assistant is pre-installed on various devices, including the Google Home smart speaker and many smartphones. The device is designed to only record conversations prompted by “hotwords” such as “Okay, Google,” or “Hey, Google” or by pressing the button on the device.

In its reply, Google stated, “[a]ll of Plaintiffs’ claims are premised on the rare instances when the Google Assistant (‘the Assistant’) experiences a ‘false accept,’ meaning that it identifies other words or sounds as a hotword and begins recording although no hotword was spoken. But it is unreasonable to expect a voice activated device like the Assistant to never experience an unintentional activation, and it certainly does not amount to a violation of federal or state privacy laws or a breach of Google’s Terms of Service (‘TOS’) or Privacy Policy.”

The defendants also advocated for the dismissal of Wiretap Act claims, as plaintiffs failed to show Google’s intent to record outside of hotwords, nor did they provide specific examples of conversations recorded without hotword indication.

The original complaint accused Google of “unlawful and intentional recording of individuals’ confidential communications without their consent from approximately May 18, 2016, to the Present” in violation of various California state laws. A minor who did not create an account for Google did not consent to be recorded by Google. In July 2019, a Belgian news company reported that Google via Google Assistant was recording millions of peoples’ conversations on devices with Google Assistant without their consent. The complaint stated that there are approximately 2.3 billion devices using Google Assistant, and alleged that “Google Assistant Enabled Devices record anything said that is preceded by anything that remotely sounds like a hot word”, and that even after Google discovers that it has wrongly recorded a conversation, it nonetheless keeps and analyzes the recording. It also does not distinguish between adult and child voices.

Google has been accused of violating California laws including the California Invasion of Privacy Act, California Unfair Competition Law, California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Declaratory Judgment Act. The plaintiffs wish for Google to delete all recordings and to only record conversations that users have consented to.  They also seek compensation for damages.  

Motion hearings are set for April.