Apple and Google stop workers from listening to intimate recordings of customers

Contractors reviewing Siri conversations heard confidential encounters, including drug deals and people having sex

Anthony Cuthbertson
Friday 02 August 2019 19:00 BST
Apple and Google workers reported 'regularly' hearing private recordings
Apple and Google workers reported 'regularly' hearing private recordings

Apple and Google have suspended access to recordings from their virtual assistants after workers revealed they often overheard private encounters.

Apple’s decision comes in the light of a report last week which said the company’s contractors around the globe tasked with reviewing Siri recordings regularly heard confidential encounters, including drug deals and people having sex.

“While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement, adding that in a future software update, users will be able to opt out of the programme.

Google separately said it would stop workers from listening to and transcribing conversations captured by its Google Assistant.

While Apple’s commitment is for all Siri users around the world, Google’s is only for customers in the EU.

Siri, Apple’s iconic voice assistant, allows users to work their iPhone without using their hands, and can send messages, make calls and open multiple applications with voice commands alone.

Consumers have become accustomed to calling out names for popular voice assistants, such as Inc’s Alexa, Google Inc’s Google Assistant, among others.

In an effort to perform quality checks and improve the voice assistant’s responses, contractors graded Siri’s answers to user queries. They also looked at whether the response was triggered accidentally, without a deliberate query from the user, the newspaper said.

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Amazon, which operates the hugely-popular Alexa assistant, is yet to make a similar commitment to Apple and Google, despite admitting in April that employees can listen to customer voice recordings from Echo and other Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

“This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone,” Amazon said in a statement at the time.

“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.”

Additional reporting from agencies

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