Apple today announced a new shift in company policy that prioritizes user privacy — at least with regards to Siri audio recordings. Now the company promises only in-house employees will listen to the recordings it has of you, and only if you consent.
Like every company with a voice assistant, Apple was called out for saving recordings and allowing workers to listen to them. It did this for the same purpose everyone did — namely, to improve the quality of the assistant’s responses. But it nonetheless creeped people out, especially since, according to The Guardian‘s report, the recordings included, “countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on.”
The company (along with Google and Amazon) suspended the use of voice recording earlier this month in response to the backlash. It said at the time it was working on a future software upgrade to obtain users’ informed consent before it resumed the practice. Today it’s revealed exactly how that’ll work, detailing how Siri protects user privacy and how it’ll make the effort to do better by its users. Apple was also quick to specify that Siri has never been used outside the company, if that makes anyone feel better:
When we store Siri data on our servers, we don’t use it to build a marketing profile and we never sell it to anyone. We use Siri data only to improve Siri, and we are constantly developing technologies to make Siri even more private.
Apple apparently also took the backlash to mean that users objected to the use of contract workers to listen to their recordings, specifying that, going forward “only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions.” The Irish Times reports that 300 contractors have lost their jobs in Apple’s Cork facility as a result of this.
It seems a little bit of a wrong-headed move. If I were to learn someone was listening to Siri’s recordings of me singing Whitney Houston off-key, my embarrassment wouldn’t stem from the fact that it’s a lowly contractor doing the listening. Tim Cook himself could be listening to my searing rendition of “I Will Always Love You” and I’d still wanna jump in a river.
According to Apple’s new policies, users must opt in to allow the company to use recordings of their Siri requests. The company says “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.” It’ll also delete any recordings in which the user triggered Siri accidentally.
Apple will resume listening to Siri recordings (with consent) this fall.