Regulators and lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe are examining whether Google, Apple Inc. and Inc. are violating privacy by employing human reviewers to listen to voice commands recorded by digital assistants.

Apple and Google, which is currently being investigated by Hamburg’s data protection authority, have both suspended their programs; Amazon late Friday announced changes to its terms that let users opt out of human review of their recordings. Regulators from Ireland and the U.K. are now also looking into whether the tech giants have infringed European privacy regulations.

“We are aware of privacy concerns relating to voice assistant programs and will be assessing the available information,” said a spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s data protection regulator. She added the ICO would discuss the matter with the board of European data protection authorities “in order to ascertain the full facts and any possible risks to the rights of U.K. residents.”

Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software. Their tasks include listening to and transcribing voice recordings. Some of the workers reviewing customer recordings had access to certain personal data, including users’ first names and their location.

At the time, Amazon and people familiar with the program said only a small sample of recordings were manually reviewed. Bloomberg reported that similar human review is used for Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Recent news reports elaborated on the extent of those companies’ review program.

The reports sparked concern among privacy advocates that the practice could violate users’ rights, particularly in cases where devices begin recording unintentionally or without the user’s knowledge.

The Irish regulator that oversees Apple and Google in Europe said that it is in talks with both companies over obtaining further details about voice assistants.

"We will be making our assessments and conclusions,” said a spokeswoman. “We note that both companies have ceased this processing, Google from mid-July and Apple in recent days.”

Siri Grading

A spokesman for Luxembourg’s data protection commission, Amazon’s main privacy regulator in Europe, confirmed that it had been in touch with Amazon on the issue but declined to comment further, saying the talks were confidential.

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