Apple has issued a formal apology for its privacy practices of secretly having human contractors listen to recordings of customers talking to its Siri digital assistant to improve the service. “We realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize,” Apple’s statement reads.
First, by default, we will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve.
Second, users will be able to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests. We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place. Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time.
Third, when customers opt in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions. Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.
Apple was one of several major tech companies — including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft — that was caught using paid human contractors to review recordings from its digital assistant, a fact that wasn’t made clear to customers. According to The Guardian’s report, those contractors had access to recordings that were full of private details, often due to accidental Siri triggers, and workers were said to each be listening to up to 1,000 recording a day.
In the aftermath of that report, Apple announced that it would suspend the grading program that would see those recordings reviewed. “We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge at the time. Previously, Apple policy would keep random recordings from Siri for up to six months, after which it would remove identifying information for a copy that it would keep for two years or more.
Per today’s announcement, both the non-optional recording and the subsequent grading policies are now being suspended for good. Apple says it will no longer keep audio recordings from Siri unless a user specifically opts in. And in cases where customers do choose to give Apple their data, only Apple employees will have access (not, it would seem to imply, hired contractors). The company additionally promises that it will work to delete recordings of accidental triggers, which The Guardian’s report claims were the main source of sensitive information.
According to Apple’s statement, the company plans to resume grading Siri recordings under those new policies later this fall, following a software update that adds the new opt-in option to its devices.