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Google Assistant uses federated learning to improve hotwords

Last year, Google introduced the ability to customize how sensitive your smart screens and speakers are to your keyword. Assistant now uses federated learning on Android to prevent “Hello Google” error activations and misses.

For a handful of users, opening up Google Assistant settings today introduces a new “Help improve your assistant” option to “save audio so that voice technologies can learn over time.” This new feature is also reflected in the general preferences of the Google app.

Your audio recordings remain on your device while a privacy technology combines information from you and many other participants to help the assistant learn over time and develop better smart features.

By default, Google will define the hotword detection model in two scenarios:

  • In rare cases, you can disable or trigger when you did not say “Hello Google.”
  • In other cases, miss, or not trigger, when you said “Hello Google.”

The company uses federated learning so that raw data – you say something close to “Hello Google” – is processed locally. Instead of sending audio to the cloud, the device sends only a “summary of the model changes to [a] Google server. This will help “adjust Google’s triggering logic.”

Near activations occur when the “Hey Google” model detects sound or something you say that almost activates Google Assistant.

Google’s servers do not store your voice recordings from near activation, but your device does if unified learning is on. Your device can not indicate anything when it stores these recordings, and can store up to 20 recordings per day …

Voice recording is encrypted, and processing takes place when the phone is idle, charging and connected to Wi-Fi. It will be deleted after it is no longer needed or 63 days.

Disabling the setting will delete local recordings, even if your data is still kept in the cloud as part of the web and app activity setting, which can be removed separately or set to auto-delete.

In addition to Assistant, Google already uses federated learning on the Gboard and Health Studies app. This feature has not been rolled out today and only appeared on one device / account (Pixel 5 on Android 11).

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