What if Google Hear Us?

I wonder how many of us would install these devices if we knew that strangers might be able to freely listen in to our conversations.

If our desire is to keep our views private, then there are wider problems about our view of the Christian life. There should be no distinction between our public and private lives. If that is true, let Google listen to what they may.


Google—much like Amazon before them—has recently admitted that “contractors” can access recordings made by their Google Assistant. Whilst this may be troubling for those who use Google Home, which has Google Assistant built in, unlike Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant is also used in Android phones to power any voice activation features. This means that Google may be recording—and allowing external contractors to listen to and transcribe—any conversation you may be having at home or whenever you are near your mobile phone.

The Guardian report:

The company admitted on Thursday that humans can access recordings made by the Assistant, after some of its Dutch language recordings were leaked. Google is investigating the breach.

The recordings were obtained by the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, which reviewed more than 1,000 audio clips and found 153 had been captured accidentally.

Whilst a Google spokesman claimed that all recordings are stripped of any personal information, the Guardian go on to state:

The report from VRT found recordings of users that had identifiable information, including one person’s address and other personal information, like a family discussing their grandchildren by name, another user discussing their love life, and one user talking about how quickly a child was growing.

In 2017, Google confirmed a bug in its Home Mini speaker allowed the smart device to record users even when it was not activated by the wake up word.

It is possible that Amazon and Google may have to change their practices to comply with GDPR regulations, at least ceasing to use external contractors. But I wonder how many of us would install these devices if we knew that strangers might be able to freely listen in to our conversations?

Of course, for the Christian, we believe that there is a God who will hold us accountable for every careless word that we speak. Unlike Google or Amazon, he will also hold us to account for every evil thought that we think too. This prompts me to wonder from a Christian perspective about this news story.

Under the watchful eye of the Lord we reckon that we are to be the same people in public that we are in private. Christians have long made the case that the personal lives of our public servants does matter because what we are in private is what we are in reality. Christians make the case that character matters. Most Bible-believing Christians rightly scoff at those who hold private views which are somehow different to their public views. This is equally specious whether it comes from politicians or from church leaders. As such, if we genuinely are the same people in private that we are in public (as we ought to be), should we overly worry that Google might listen to things we say privately?

Of course, there are matters that should remain entirely private. Whilst I have nothing particularly to hide about my sex life, that is not a matter for public broadcast. Whilst I don’t have anything specific to hide about my children, or my financial setup, these again are not things for everyone. So long as my sex life remains solely between me and my wife (which it is and always should) it is not a matter for anybody else. My family life is a matter for me, my family and those with whom we are in close relationship. My financial setup is a matter for my family, my church and HMRC. Different issues will have a bigger or smaller circle of people permitted to know about them but there are few issues that are broadcastable for everyone.

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