Apple acknowledges that Siri listens to ‘a small portion’ of our conversations
First, we heard it was Alexa, then Google assistant, and now even Siri. Can people never use voice assistants without companies eavesdropping anymore?
In a recent report by The Guardian it was revealed that Apple contractors regularly use Siri to listen to your conversation, and the company acknowledged that this is done for the process of quality control or “grading”.
The contractors apparently listen to your conversations to grade the responses on various factors like if Siri was activated mistakenly or deliberately during a conversation or if the response given by Siri for a particular query was appropriate or not.
As told to The Guardian, the company also claims that reviewers only listen to a small part of the recordings. And only one percent of daily Siri activations are used for grading purposes. The recordings are reportedly not associated with an Apple ID.
“A small portion of Siri requests are analysed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analysed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.”
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An anonymous contractor also said that it is a matter of concern given the frequency with which Siri accidentally records some extremely personal conversations. The source also revealed that many times conversations between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal deals have also been recorded.
“You can definitely hear a doctor and patient, talking about the medical history of the patient. Or you’d hear someone, maybe with car engine background noise – you can’t say definitely, but it’s a drug deal … you can definitely hear it happening. And you’d hear, like, people engaging in sexual acts that are accidentally recorded on the pod or the watch,” a contractor told the publication.
Apple’s voice assistant is activated when you say the words, “Hello Siri”. People might link Siri with iPhones and MacBooks only but Siri is also active when it comes to Apple Watch and HomePod.
The contractor said that the staff were encouraged to report accidental activations of Siri “but only as a technical problem”, with no specific procedure that will deal with sensitive recordings. He said, ” We’re encouraged to hit targets and get through work as fast as possible.” The report adds that the fear of the information being misused is what motivated him to go public with the type of job that they do. He said that there is not much vetting as to who works there and the amount of data that they have access to. He also emphasised that it would not be difficult for the contractors to recognise the person talking in the recordings since accidental triggers sometimes reveal address or name and so on about a person.
One thing that is different in the case of Amazon, Google and Apple is that Apple either gives an option to entirely disable Siri or not at all. As for Google and Amazon’s Alexa, users have a choice to disable the microphone recordings and still use the voice assistant when needed.
“Apple is subcontracting out, there’s a high turnover. It’s not like people are being encouraged to have consideration for people’s privacy, or even consider it. If there were someone with nefarious intentions, it wouldn’t be hard to identify [people on the recordings].”
The contractor argued Apple should reveal to users this human oversight exists – and, specifically, stop publishing some of its jokier responses to Siri queries. Ask the personal assistant “are you always listening”, for instance, and it will respond with: “I only listen when you’re talking to me.”
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