In brief: A week after it was revealed that third-party contractors regularly heard confidential user details via Siri recordings, Apple has announced it is suspending the program globally.
Apple likes to paint itself as one of the few big tech companies that prioritizes its users’ privacy, but that image came under question last week following revelations that quality assurance auditors were listening to Siri conversations. Although the snippets were only a few seconds long and stripped of identifiable data, some of them included sensitive information including users’ medical details, drug dealings, and even sounds of people having sex.
The contracting firm’s job was to listen to the audio recordings and grade Siri’s responses, such as whether its activation was accidental or deliberate, whether it was something the assistant could be expected to help with, and whether the response was appropriate.
“A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation,” an Apple spokesperson told The Guardian. “User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analyzed in secure facilities, and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.” The company added that less than one percent of Siri interactions were analyzed.
Despite Apple’s assurances of anonymity, it appears the company didn’t want the bad publicity that the program brought and has now suspended it while a review is conducted. In a statement to TechCrunch, the company said: “We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy. While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”
Apple isn’t the only company that allowed workers to listen to its smart assistant’s conversations. Back in April, it was reported that Amazon does the same thing, with thousands of contractors and full-time workers around the world, “from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania,” listening to voice recordings captured by Echo devices to help improve Alexa performance.