Apple Suspends Siri Listening Practice, But Could Keep Voice Recordings

The company said, in the future, users would be able to opt-out of the practice known as 'Siri grading.'

The Apple logo is displayed at the Apple Store June 17, 2015 on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
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The company said, in the future, users would be able to opt-out of the practice known as 'Siri grading.'

Apple said Friday that it would suspend a practice that allowed independent contractors to listen to recordings of users’ voices made when they used Siri, The Verge reported.

The revelation that the company allowed independent contractors to listen to audio from Siri came last week in a report from The Guardian where a whistleblower for one of the firms involved detailed the practice, which The Verge noted is not explicitly stated in Apple’s terms of service.

Workers allegedly regularly overheard private and intimate moments between customers, including drug deals, medical details, and customers having sex.

In a statement, Apple said future customers will have the ability to decide whether they participate in the “Siri grading” program.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” an Apple spokesperson said, per The Verge. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

According to The Guardian, Apple sent a “small proportion” of Siri requests to independent contractors throughout the world in order to grade the virtual assistant’s responses on factors, which include whether a user intentionally triggered Siri or whether the virtual assistant, which was unveiled by the company in 2011, was able to understand the request and respond appropriately.

In a statement to The Guardian, the company said less than 1 percent of Siri requests were analyzed by independent contractors, which it said were bound to confidentiality agreements. Apple said the data was not associated with a customer’s Apple ID, which is the account Apple users have for Apple services like the App Store and iCloud.

While the company said it would stop its practice of allowing contractors to listen to recordings for now, it did not say whether it would delete the recordings it currently has stored on its servers, per The Verge.

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The news came at a time where Apple prided itself in respecting the privacy of its users, of which it had about 1.4 billion at the beginning of the year, according to MacRumors.

According to 9to5Mac, the Cupertino, California-based company has several times this year installed billboards in the U.S. and Canada that tout its supposed commitment to privacy. In July, Apple erected new billboards in Canada just outside the headquarters of Sidewalk Labs in Toronto. That’s notable, 9to5Mac noted, as Sidewalk Labs is owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

In March, the company, which is led by CEO Tim Cook, released an advertisement for its iPhone XS that centered around user privacy, per The Verge.

“Privacy. That’s iPhone,” the tagline for the commercial read following the advertisement, which can be viewed on YouTube.