The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday that Apple is sending “a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world.”
“We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. But we also recognize that not everyone sees things as we do. In a way, the desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels last October. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold. Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself.”
Just like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, Apple's Siri is always listening
According to the British daily, “there have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”
Most likely, the audio recordings have been sent to Apple—in order to improve Siri—after an accidental activation of Siri, either though the Cupertino company’s smartwatch, the HomePod wireless speaker or one of the other Apple mobile devices including the iPhone, the iPad, or the iPod touch.
The big issue is that these voice snippets end up being accessed by humans—contractors working for the company around the world—that should not have been authorized in the first place and could provide enough details to identify a user—in clear contradiction with Cook’s comments just last month.
Apple is not alone in employing human oversight in order to improve its digital voice assistant.
Last May, news emerged about Amazon teams of people around the world that analyze snippets of conversations that Alexa-powered devices secretly record and upload to the cloud, claiming it will improve Alexa's "customer experience." The data is not really being anonymized and can be traced back to the actual owner of the smart speaker.
And earlier this month, Google admitted that it also had a team reviewing audio snippets—less than 0.2% of all audio recordings it claims.
Apple has communicated through its marketing strategy that privacy is at the heart of he company's policy, and has been trying to distinguish itself from Amazon and Google, its direct competitors in the smart assistant market.
In addition, and contrary to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, there's no way to opt-out having your audio recordings sent to Apple servers.