Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings

The Guardian published this news recently, and it was not good for Apple.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.

How can this happen?

Siri can be accidentally activated when it mistakenly hears its “wake word”, the phrase “hey Siri”.

What can they listen?

The whistleblower said: “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.”

In my opinion, Apple is the champion in all things privacy, but Apple could have easily avoided this. Companies outsource their minor tasks to other companies with high turnover (Facebook does the same with their content monitoring team). Having anyone listening to private conversations is terrible, being external to the company or not. Even if it’s for the sake of improving the service, without the users’ explicit consent, Apple should never share this or any information with anyone.


How can Apple fix this?

iOS and macOS have all types of security measures to curb the unintentional sharing of information. The upcoming of macOS release Catalina doubles-down on this, by asking the user permission for a lot more things that can be a problem by itself. Asking is the solution here. Apple could have a setting like the one currently asking  “Share Information with Developers” to have another asking for permission to share data to improve the service. If not, no clip would be shared regardless.

Apple addresses these questions quite fast and, usually, does the right thing. Let’s see how they treat this one.

You can read the full article here.

Have a suggestion of your own or disagree with something I said? Leave a comment or interact on Twitter and be sure to check out other privacy-related articles here.

Featured Image by Headway on Unsplash

Manuel Gomes

I'm a Project Manager with experience in large projects and companies. I've worked in the past for companies like Bayer, Sybase (now SAP) and I'm currently working for Pestana Hotel Group.

View all posts by Manuel Gomes →

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