Following concerns that they were invading the privacy of its users, Apple announced yesterday (August 29th) that it would be making changes to the process used to improve its voice assistant Siri.
The move comes after a report by The Guardian last month, which revealed that Apple had been hiring external contractors to listen in to audio recordings of users to assess the quality of the voice assistant.
According to an anonymous whistleblower who spoke to the British newspaper, the process — which Apple refers to as “Grading” — would regularly capture sensitive conversations due to accidental activations. The sound of a zipper, for example, can trigger Siri to unintentionally activate.
“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,” the whistleblower said.
According to Apple, the number of audio recordings reviewed is small — “less than 0.2 percent of total requests” — but users currently have no way to opt out of the programme besides turning Siri completely off on their devices.
The company has since responded with a statement on their website, apologising for the lack of transparency and highlighting the changes they plan to make when they resume the Grading programme later this fall.
“We realise we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologise.”
Under the revised policy, users must first consent to participating in the Grading programme before Apple can use their recordings to improve Siri, and will be able to opt out at any time.
On top of that, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to the recordings, and they are also required to delete any recordings that are determined to be the result of an accidental trigger.
According to another report by The Guardian, Apple has also terminated the contracts of external parties involved in the Grading programme, leaving “more than 300 employees” across Europe without a job.
Feature Image Credit: Vulcan Post