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Apple contractors reveal they listened to 1,000 Siri recordings per shift

A former employee of the third-party Apple contractor says that they were tasked to listen to 1,000 Siri recordings per shift.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 25, 2019 6:15:40 pm
apple, siri recording, apple contractors siri recordings, apple siri recordings, apple privacy Apple suspended the practice of grading Siri recordings by third-party contractors, which used to listen to 1,000 Siri recordings per shift. (Express Photo: Mohammad Faisal)

Apple suspended transcription and grading work on Siri recordings last month after it was revealed that it hired third-party contractors worldwide to listen to and ‘grade’ such recordings. According to an employee who had his contract terminated this week, contractors in Cork were expected to each listen to more than 1,000 recordings from Siri every shift, reported Irishexaminer.

A whistleblower revealed last month that Apple was paying contractors to hear accidental Siri recordings. The Guardian reported that the contractors regularly used to hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control.

The Irishexaminer reported that Apple suspended transcription and grading work on Siri recordings last month after details of the practice came to light. Staff employed as data analysts with Globetech, a Cork-firm headquartered at Cork Airport Business Park, were informed this week that their employment with the company has been terminated.

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The contractors were tasked with grading the responses based on whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with, and whether Siri’s response was appropriate or not.

The former Cork employee tells the Irishexaminer, “I understood the reasons why the company was doing it but I could see why people would feel it was a breach of privacy because they weren’t telling people. I think the lack of consent was the issue.”

According to the former employee, contractors working for Globetech regularly listened to more than 1,000 recordings from Siri each shift. “They {the recordings} were about a few seconds long, occasionally we would hear personal data or snippets of conversations but mostly it would be Siri commands,” he told the publication.

Apple had responded to the report confirming that a small portion of Siri recordings is indeed used for improvements. While Apple’s privacy explainer site mentions that Siri data is sent to “Apple servers” to improve the quality of the service but it doesn’t mention that humans are processing it or the involvement of third-party contractors.

Also read | Apple admits that private Siri recordings are analysed by humans

The person reportedly said that they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when they started. It meant they couldn’t talk about what they did in detail and they were not allowed to say that they worked for Apple. He also said that each Siri user’s details were kept anonymous.

However, according to the whistleblower, these recordings were accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data. “It wouldn’t be difficult to identify the person that you’re listening to, especially with accidental triggers – addresses, names and so on,” the whistleblower told The Guardian.

“My colleagues are mostly young people from Cork who now have no job,” the employee told Irishexaminer, adding, “This also includes dozens of people who have come from Canada, Australia and mainland Europe.”

A spokesperson for Apple told the publication, “We believe that everyone should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve — this includes our own employees and the suppliers we work with, in Ireland and around the world. Apple is committed to customer privacy and made the decision to suspend Siri grading while we conduct a thorough review of our processes. We’re working closely with our partners as we do this to ensure the best possible outcome for our suppliers, their employees and our customers around the world.”

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