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3 Aug, 2019 11:23

Apple suspends Siri program that allows employees to listen in on users' private conversations

Apple suspends Siri program that allows employees to listen in on users' private conversations

Apple has announced it is temporarily suspending its program which monitored recordings from AI assistant Siri after reports that it allowed the company’s human contractors to listen in on private conversations.

“While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally,” Apple said in a comment to Business Insider.

The decision follows a report from the Guardian, last week, which revealed that company workers around the globe who review the recordings from the voice assistant regularly listen to users’ private conversations.

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According to an Apple whistleblower, a small part of Siri recordings are frequently passed to human contractors working for quality control, or grading, of Siri responses to commands. The stated aim is to “improve and develop” Siri functions, and assess, among other things, whether the voice assistant was activated accidentally or on purpose, whether Siri was helpful, and whether its response to the query was appropriate.

While Apple does not explicitly mention any human involvement in Siri’s training in the assistant’s documentation, it did acknowledge that “a small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation [to help] understand you better and recognize what you say.”

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However, given the number of ways Siri can be activated, the voice recordings sent for evaluation revealed a large number of cases when Siri was activated accidentally. The contractors were therefore left to deal with recordings of confidential medical information, drug deals, or couples having sex, as part of their job in evaluating Siri’s effectiveness.

Apart from suspending the AI’s grading program and its thorough review, Apple has promised users it will add an option for the user to choose whether to participate in Siri grading or not.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy […] As part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading,” the company stated.

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