Sorry Apple to halt default Siri audio recordings after eavesdropping outcry

Apple says it will no longer retain Siri audio recordings by default, amid a growing outcry over tech companies use of outside contractors to listen to users interactions.

In a Newsroom post on Wednesday, the company has apologised to users for not “living up to our high ideals” and has announced a series of changes following an internal review.

Apple had already suspended its review program, after a whistleblower shed light on the practice earlier this month, but is now taking further action.

When the grading program does return, the company will only use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve, by default. However, users will be able “to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests,” Apple says.

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Apple says it hopes many people will choose to participate “knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place.” Those users will be able to opt out at any time.

Finally, Apple says that that only its own employees will be permitted to listen in on the recordings from those who opt in, meaning no more outside contractors.

Apple says the Siri grading program will resume this autumn, but only after a software update containing the above changes has been rolled out.

This week it was reported that more than 300 employees at a contractor Apple had been using had lost their jobs following Apple’s halting of the recording reviews earlier in August.

The original report from The Guardian revealed contractors had heard people having sex and discussing crimes in what appeared to be accidental Siri recordings, perhaps prompted by the hands-free “Hey Siri” command.

Since then, similar practices at Google, Amazon and Microsoft have been revealed with the respective companies pledging to halt or suspend the use of contractors. Apple halting audio recording by default is the farthest any of the companies implicated has gone yet.

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