Apple has said it would quit its default practice of retaining users audio recordings of requests made to Siri, due to user privacy concerns. They also said they would limit human review of what audio it does collect to its own employees, rather than contractors.
The changes come after Apple, earlier this month, paused a programme called Siri grading. This programme allowed humans to listen to audio recordings of users. This is to determine whether the assistant had responded appropriately to requests. For instance, whether Siri could read unread messages or upcoming calendar appointments.
Apple put Siri grading on hold after the Guardian newspaper reported that contractors working on Apple’s behalf regularly invaded user privacy. They heard confidential information, drug deals and couples having sex.
Increased public and political awareness of data privacy practices have forced greater transparency from Silicon Valley companies. Alphabet Inc’s Google paused reviews of audio recordings from its Google assistant service for all purposes in all languages after a leak of Dutch audio data.
Apple has promoted its privacy practices in an effort to distance itself from its rivals. It has also taken steps since Siri’s introduction in 2011 to limit data collection. Audio recordings are deleted after a set period of time, users were identified by a random number. In addition, data such as a user’s unread messages or calendar appointments were not sent to Apple’s servers.
However, Apple tapped humans to improve the service, a process that can cut speech recognition error rates in half. Apple says the number of audio recordings reviewed was small – less than 0.2% of total requests. Despite this, users had no way to opt out of having audio retained and reviewed by humans. They could only turn Siri off altogether.
Apple said that it will stop keeping audio for human review. Instead, it would let users opt in to having their audio reviewed if they choose. The company said it will still use computer-generated transcripts to improve Siri.
Apple also said that it will let only employees review the audio and that it “will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.”
Apple said the pause on the programme will remain in place until the changes are carried out. They did not give a date.
Source: Reuters San Francisco & Bengaluru , 28 August
Reporting: Stephen Nellis & Arjun Panchadar