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Apple Suspends Worldwide Program Allowing Outside Contractors to listen to Siri Recordings by Apple iPhone Users

August 02, 2019 - 1:52 pm
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Apple said it is suspending a worldwide program allowing outside contractors to listen to Siri recordings of private conversations by users of Apple phones, watches and home speakers.

The Cupertino, California, company is temporarily halting a process called "grading," TechCrunch reported. The quality control measure allows third-party workers hired by Apple to listen to audio recordings to determine whether its Siri service accurately heard them. The information is used to improve Siri's future performance and capabilities. 

While the recordings are not attached to names, the suspension follows concerns raised last week in reports by the Guardian detailing the scope of information recorded by the voice assistant. The Guardian, citing an anonymous whistleblower, reported that contract employees regularly listened to confidential information, including medical details, drug deals and recordings of couples having sex.

Apple told the Guardian that just 1% of Siri recordings, typically just a few seconds long, are used for grading. However, the anonymous source told the news outlet that the recording contractors can hear can contain identifying information, like addresses, as Siri can be triggered accidentally.

An Apple spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the grading program. "We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy," she said in a statement. In addition, she said Apple will also offer users the ability to participate in grading as part of a future software update.   

The temporary suspension comes as Apple attempts to position itself as a champion for consumer data privacy, while rival tech giants Facebook and Google come under fire for a series of privacy violations.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been outspoken about "moving privacy protections forward," telling CBS News in June that it's building more safeguards for users, including a secure "Sign in with Apple" feature for other apps.