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Apple Stops Listening to Siri Recordings Following Backlash

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has temporarily ended the practice of having humans listen to your Siri queries.

On Thursday (Aug. 1), Apple said it suspended a program that recorded Siri queries so that contractors hired by Apple could determine whether Siri was accurately responding to users.

In a statement to TechCrunch, an Apple spokesperson said that the company will  release a software update to let Siri users opt-in to its so-called "grading" program.

In similar news, Google suspended Google Assistant human evaluations in the entire European Union for at least three months after the German city-state of Hamburg launched an investigation into Google's own practice

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Apple's grading program was first reported on last week by the Guardian, which detailed how Apple recorded Siri queries and, without identifying the speaker, sent the recordings to contractors. Those contractors listened to the queries to decide whether Siri's responses were accurate.

Although Apple wasn't personally identifying anyone, there's no telling what was in the recordings. Depending on what people said  — or what they were doing — in the moment, they could have identified themselves. The contractor who tipped off the Guardian said they'd heard drug deals and people having sex.

Apple isn't alone in having humans listen to a small portion of spoken commands send to automated voice assistants. Both Amazon and Google have acknowledged that their contractors also listen to short audio snippets of people requesting information from Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively. 

All of the companies argue that the practice is critical to improving virtual assistant response accuracy. That's not unreasonable if you consider the wide range of accents, intonations and slang vocabulary used in even a single language.

However, most voice-assistant users haven't been given a clear option to opt out of human evaluations. Many people would balk at the idea of having their personal requests listened to by unknown third-parties.

Adding a feature that lets you opt out of Apple's grading is a good first step. It also would help Apple keep its reputation as the technology industry's biggest supporter of user privacy. But exactly when the opt-out feature will be available in the software update is unknown.

Don Reisinger is a communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter who has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine and The New York Times, as well as Tom's Guide.