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Google Sued Over Assistant App’s Allegedly Secret Recordings

July 26, 2019, 6:16 PM

Google has been hit with a class complaint alleging smartphones and other devices running Google Assistant have infringed the privacy rights of thousands of people by secretly recording their conversations.

Devices including Google Home and Google Pixel smartphones allegedly recorded conversations in violation of California law even when the user hadn’t triggered their listening function by pressing a button or using a “hot word” like “Okay Google.”

The suit, filed in the Northern District of California by three named plaintiffs, follows a report by VRT NWS, a Belgian news outlet. It said “thousands of Google employees are systematically listening to audio files recorded by Google Home smart speakers and the Google Assistant smartphone app from devices around the world, including audio that does not contain a hot word.” Google employees listen to the unauthorized recordings to improve Google Assistant’s functionality, the complaint and report say.

The plaintiffs say they all owned or interacted with Google Assistant-enabled devices, and that the devices unlawfully recorded them without their consent “on multiple occasions.” One of the named plaintiffs is a minor, which the complaint says is “especially troubling as children cannot consent to being recorded by the Google Assistant Enabled Device.”

Causes of Action: Violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act, Unfair Competition Law, and Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

Relief: Class certification, declaratory judgment that Google violates California law, injunction requiring Google to “delete all recordings of the Class members, and to implement functionality to prevent further recording of the Class members without prior consent,” damages, attorneys’ fees.

Potential Class Size: All individuals recorded by a Google Assistant-enabled device without their consent since May 18, 2016, or earlier, with a subclass of minor children recorded during the class period.

Response: Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Kumandan v. Google LLC, N.D. Cal., No. 5:19-cv-04286, complaint filed 7/25/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com