This journalist’s scare is a reminder that cloud transcription isn’t completely private

A report recently published by Politico about the automated cloud transcription service serves as a great reminder of how difficult 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, an Uyghur human rights activist who could be a target of surveillance from the Chinese government. But though they took pains to keep their communication confidential, they used Otter to record the call — and a day later, they received a message from Otter asking about the purpose of the conversation with Aksu.

It was a concerning email. After receiving mixed messages from an Otter support agent about whether the survey was genuine or not, the reporter went down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what had happened. He details his dive into the privacy policy and how the ease and utility of cloud transcription software can override critical thinking about where potentially sensitive data is ending up.

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It’s a timely reminder automated transcribing services are springing up all over the place, from independent startups like and Trint to built-in features of Zoom and Google Docs. We all know that the government can use a subpoena to obtain data from these cloud services, but convenience and accessibility can make it easier to overlook those concerns.

However, as the report states: “We have not and would not share any data, including data files, of yours with any foreign government or law enforcement organizations. To be clear, we will never share any of your data, including data files, with any foreign government or law enforcement agency unless we are lawfully obliged to do so by a valid United States legal subpoena.”

However, it is compulsory to remember that the government has legal access to the information we send to these services, especially when deciding between cloud services and alternatives such as apps that use device transcription or offline recorders.