News alert: your Siri voice recordings may not be entirely private.
According to The Guardian, Apple hires contractors to listen to Siri recordings in order to improve the accuracy and quality of the voice assistant.
These contractors “regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or ‘grading,'” the report claims.
Not exactly a good look for a company that prides itself on taking privacy more seriously than other tech companies.
The exposé on Apple comes from an anonymous whistleblower who spoke with The Guardian, voicing concerns on how the undisclosed Siri data could be potentially misused.
Though, Apple’s contractors are hired to review a small portion of Siri recordings and told to only report Siri recordings for technical problems such as accidental activations, not on the content itself, the whistleblower said it’s uncomfortable to hear conversations such as ones where people are engaging in sexual acts or drug dealings.
“There’s not much vetting of who works there, and the amount of data that we’re free to look through seems quite broad,” the whistleblower told The Guardian. “It wouldn’t be difficult to identify the person that you’re listening to, especially with accidental triggers – addresses, names and so on.”
Apple told the The Guardian that Siri recordings are “used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognize what you say.”
Additionally, Apple dodged around the possibility that any recordings could be used to identify a person.
“A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID,” Apple told The Guardian. “Siri responses are analyzed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.”
According to Apple, less than one percent of a random subset of daily Siri activations are used for “grading.” We’ve reached out to Apple to get clarification on the process of using contractors to listen to Siri recordings and will update this story if we get a response.
Personally, I’m with Apple blogger and pundit Jason Snell, who pulls no punches with his reaction to the news:
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.
The news is another strike against using voice assistants. Sure, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri can be very convenient, but the amount of data they collect comes at the cost privacy.
Even if it’s a small portion of recordings (and mostly accidental activations) that Apple’s hired contractors are listening to, these recorded conversations could include easily-identifiable information such as addresses, phone numbers, etc. In the wrong hands, sensitive information could be misused or sold without your permission.
Are you willing to risk that possibility for the convenience of a voice assistant?
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