by Jason Snell
Apple employees listen to Siri audio samples
A report from The Guardian today details that Apple uses employees to listen to some Siri audio as a part of its attempt to improve the Siri service:
Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.
Back in April Bloomberg something similar about Amazon’s process for evaluating Alexa responses.
In the story, a “whistleblower” Apple employer reported hearing some interesting things during accidental activations:
The whistleblower said: “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”
Apple released a statement to The Guardian and others:
A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. 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.
My feelings about this issue are the same as they are about Amazon: I’m not comfortable with the possibility that recordings made of me in my home or when I’m walking around with my devices will be listened to by other human beings, period. I’d much prefer automated systems handle all of these sorts of “improvement” tasks, and if that’s implausible, I’d like to be able to opt out of the process (or even better, make it opt-in).
Bottom line: It doesn’t matter to me if this is Amazon or Apple. I don’t want human beings listening to the audio these devices record. In fact, I don’t want recordings made of my audio, period—I want the audio processed and immediately discarded.
Apple boasts constantly about taking user privacy seriously. There’s one right response to this report, and it’s to change its policies and communicate them clearly. A mealy-mouthed response about how the eavesdropping is done in a secure facility without an Apple ID attached is not good enough.