Tech giant Apple announced on Friday that it had suspended its Siri response grading program because of privacy issues surrounding the matter. The global program analyzed voice recordings from users interacting with Siri.
Privacy row over the program
Last week, the Guardian reported that the company’s contractors who regularly reviews recordings of its customers were hearing personal information and private conversations of their users. Apple has now responded by suggesting that its global response grading program has been halted. In a statement, an Apple spokeswoman said, “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally.” She also said that users would be given the option to opt-out of the program in future updates.
Siri is a voice assistant available on Apple’s iPhone devices that allows users to work without using their hands, including sending messages, making calls, searching the web, and opening applications using voice commands. Contractors were allowed to perform quality checks on responses by the assistant. They graded the answers by the assistant to user queries to help improve responses. The Guardian noted that the contractors also looked at whether the response was a result of a deliberate query or triggered accidentally.
Leaking confidential information
The newspaper wrote in its report, on behalf of a whistleblower, then most of the confidential information was recorded via accidental triggers of Siri. Apple Watch was more susceptible to these triggers, and the regularity of such triggers is extremely high. While some of the recordings could only be 30 seconds, it could gather ample information about what a user is doing.
According to the whistleblower, who worked as an Apple contractor, they could hear a doctor and a patient discuss the patient’s medical history or overhear people during a drug deal or sexual acts. Apple only suggests that it could use Siri data to help the assistant understand users better, but it never explicitly mentions that it would be available to contractors.
Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, said,
“Apple’s record on privacy is really slipping. The current iOS does not allow users to opt-out of face recognition on photos, and this revelation about Siri means our iPhones were listening to us without our knowledge.”
Other big tech companies, Amazon and Google, have faced similar issues regarding their collection of information and undisclosed quality assurance programs. Bloomberg reported earlier that both Amazon and Google use contractors for their quality assurance programs and that these contractors have expressed their discomfort at the recordings overheard by the assistant.