Apple Suspends Program That Eavesdropped On Siri Conversations

siri, apple, voice assistant, privacy

Apple said it was sorry for allowing contractors to listen to what people said to Siri, CNBC reported on Wednesday (Aug. 28).

Human review for Siri recordings helps Apple improve the recognition and understanding algorithms that Siri uses to operate, the company has said. Its “Siri grading program” permitted independent contractors to do the listening without informing users. 

The program was suspended following a July 26 article in The Guardian that reported some Apple contractors heard sensitive information like medical issues and drug deals. A recent report in the same publication said Apple laid off more than 300 contractors who were working on Siri grading in Europe.

Apple said it would reinstate the Siri audio program later in the year with some new policy changes that will give users more control over how their Siri requests are handled, according to a company blog post. 

Audio recordings will no longer be saved by default and any conversations that were inadvertently recorded will be deleted. Apple will still use “computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve,” but users will have to opt in and will be able to opt out whenever they want to.

“These transcriptions are associated with a random identifier, not your Apple ID, for up to six months,” according to a new Siri Privacy and Grading page that Apple published on Wednesday. “If you do not want transcriptions of your Siri audio recordings to be retained, you can disable Siri and Dictation in Settings.”

The company is also changing its policy so that only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to Siri recordings. 

Apple said the grading process had reviewed less than 0.2 percent of Siri requests and used the reviews to “measure how well Siri was responding and to improve its reliability.”

In a move to improve Siri, Apple in February acquired San Francisco’s PullString, a maker of technology that enables people to design and publish voice-activated apps. With Amazon leading in the voice-activated speaker market thanks to the voice assistant Alexa and its slew of skills, Apple is trying to fight back. It also has to contend with Google, relegating it to third place.



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