Apple has officially begun testing a feature that allows users to explicitly opt out of sharing audio recordings to improve its Siri voice assistant.
The update — available as a beta for iPadOS 13.2, iOS 13.2, Apple tvOS 13.2, WatchOS 6.1, and MacOS 10.15.1 — will also make it easy to delete their Siri and Dictation history, allowing users to erase all the Siri data Apple has on its servers.
These new options can be accessed right from the Settings app:
- Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements > Improve Siri & Dictation
- Settings > Siri & Search > Siri & Dictation History > Delete Siri & Dictation History
In addition to offering an explicit opt-in, Apple has promised that only employees, and not contractors, will be involved in reviewing the audio clips.
However, this doesn’t stop the automated text transcriptions of your Siri requests from being transmitted to Apple, irrespective of whether you opt-in or -out, although they will pseudonymized and dissociated from your Apple ID. What’s more, these transcripts could be reviewed by employees and contractors.
Easing privacy worries
Earlier this year, the iPhone maker drew ire for its so-called practice of grading, which involves employing human contractors to listen to a select sample of audio clips — that may or may not contain sensitive information — in an attempt to gauge its responses to Siri requests.
The fact that a third-party, let alone independent contractors, were actually listening to snippets containing “medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex” set off a huge privacy concern.
As a consequence, Apple halted its grading efforts back in August, while promising to offer a privacy-focused way for users who consent to handing over their voice data for the product improvement program. The opt-in is meant to address these issues.
Welcome updates that can be improved
The updates are without doubt a step in the right direction. But in its current form, there’s no way to know which of your Siri recordings may have been saved for review by employees — assuming you have consented to giving your recordings to Apple to help improve Siri.
This is something users should have explicit control over, as is the option to manually review and delete commands that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with Apple.
It’s a widely accepted fact that netizens have to give up some level of privacy as the cost of admission for all the conveniences of the digital world. But transparency goes a long way in easing some of the concerns associated with such data collection practices.