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Facing questions regarding its actual commitment to user privacy in light of revelations that contractors were listening to extended audio samples from Siri devices, Apple today apologized for not “fully living up to our high ideals,” and said that it will change its Siri-related privacy policies as a result.
Like other providers of digital assistants, Apple has used audio samples from its devices to “grade” the accuracy of AI interpretations of human speech — a process designed to improve Siri’s responsiveness over time. The company claims that it is using “as little data as possible to deliver an accurate result,” coupled with random identifiers and eventual data dissociation from those identifiers to keep users close to anonymous.
However, contractors hired by the company disclosed that they were frequently hearing audio that users were unaware was being transmitted by Siri, leading to questions over how Apple’s grading process actually worked. The company suspended grading earlier this month, but says that it was reviewing under 0.2% of all Siri requests alongside computer-generated transcripts — a sizable amount of data, given how many times each day users intentionally or unintentionally evoke Siri.
Going forward, Apple says that it will “no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions” by default, while continuing to use computer-generated transcripts for its responsiveness improvement program. Users will be given the choice to opt into sharing audio samples, with the option to opt out at any time. Finally, contractors will no longer be used for screening audio samples — “only Apple employees will be allowed,” and the company will “work to delete” recordings that are “determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.”
Apple reportedly fired its Siri grading contractors shortly after the revelations went public. The presumption is that Apple employees can be held to higher non-disclosure standards than third-party contractors, where turnaround tends to be fairly common and screening standards might not be as high.
Siri grading will “resume later this fall when software updates are released,” and will follow the new privacy standards. New versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS are currently expected to be released shortly after an annual media event in September.
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