This Journalist’s Otter.ai Fear Reminds Us That Cloud Transcription Isn’t Completely Private

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A recently published report by Politics About the Automated Transcription Service Otter.ai is a good reminder of how hard it can be to keep things truly private in the age of cloud-based services. It starts with a nerve-wracking story – the journalist interviewed Mustafa Aksu, a Uyghur human rights activist who could be a target of surveillance by the Chinese government. But while they made every effort to keep their communications confidential, they used Otter to record the conversation – and a day later they received a message from Otter asking about the purpose of the conversation with Aksu.

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It was clearly a disturbing email. After receiving mixed messages from an Otter support worker about whether the survey was real or not, the reporter went down a rabbit hole to find out what had happened. He describes his dive into the service’s privacy policy (which does allow Otter to share some information with third parties), and explains how the ease and usability of transcription software can override critical thinking about where potentially sensitive data ends up.

It’s an important wake-up call – automated transcription services are popping up everywhere, from standalone companies to Otter (which we’re at The edge have used and recommended) and Trint, and as built-in components of services such as Zoom and Google Docs. We rationally know that a subpoena allows the government to access data stored by these cloud services, but convenience and accessibility can sometimes make it easy to forget those concerns. But as the report says:

“We do not and will not share any information, including data files, about you with any foreign government or law enforcement agencies,” Otter’s Public Relations Manager, Mitchell Woodrow, told me via email. “For the avoidance of doubt, unless we are legally compelled to do so by a valid United States legal subpoena, we will never share your information, including data files, with a foreign government or law enforcement agency.”

The report is more of a wake-up call than a takedown of a popular service. title of the transcript. The company also said it has stopped doing these kinds of studies, because of the disturbing effect they could have.

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But the fact that the government can legally get their hands on the information we provide to these services is something to keep in mind, especially when it comes to choosing between cloud services and alternatives like apps that use on-device transcription or offline recorders. . Even for those of us who don’t deal with confidential sources, it’s worth reading a report on these increasingly common transcription tools from someone who does.

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