It has basically become a shared understanding that our devices spy on us. While we jokingly and reluctantly accept that the programs we use allow governments or corporations to collect all the data that makes up our lives and identities, we still tend to get pissed when we are presented with blatant evidence of this reality.
At the end of July, The Guardian reported that an anonymous whistleblower informed them that contractors are exposed to all kinds of confidential information when Siri is accidentally activated. Contractors are tasked with what Apple refers to as “grading”, a process to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its automated assistant. Although only a small random subset (less than 1%) of Siri recordings are sent out to contractors for this purpose, Apple does not explicitly mention in their privacy agreements that humans will be sifting through this data.
The whistleblower was primarily concerned with all the private conversations that contractors can stumble upon during accidental activations. For example, Siri can be triggered when hearing its “wake word” – the phrase “hey Siri” – or when an Apple watch is raised and detects speech simultaneously. The whistleblower shared: “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.” It was claimed, however, that contractors are only instructed to be concerned with technical issues, not the content of recordings.
Of course, backlash followed the disclosure of this story. Apple promptly responded by disabling Siri’s recording feature, while they searched for a better longterm solution. On Wednesday, they revealed what they came up with in a blog post. Apple product users will now have to opt in to having human reviewers listen to their Siri interactions, and these reviewers will only be Apple employees, rather than contractors. Apple will also no longer store these recordings. “As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize.”