Apple suspends Siri voice grading, future update will allow users to choose

Following last week's report by The Guardian on Apple using human contractors to help grade the accuracy of Siri responses, and the resulting controversy, Apple has announced that they'll be reviewing the practice and, in the meantime, are suspending it completely and will be pushing out an update in the future that will allow users to choose whether or not they want to participate in the grading process.

That's what Apple told me, and others, in a statement early this morning:

We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy. While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.

Although Apple hasn't commented further, it seems likely that once the new software update rolls out and we can choose each for ourselves whether or not we want to be included in the process, the grading will resume.

Google, following a similar disclosure on their practices by VRT NWS, maintained that human reviews were "critical" to the product, in order to "make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages"

I still hope Apple removes contractors from the process, though, and restricts grading to direct employees in order to enforce even greater levels of privacy and accountability.

The Guardian wasn't the first to report on Siri using human contractors to review Siri recordings for false activations and spurious responses, but it put the sex, crime, business, medical, and other, more visceral contents of the otherwise anonymized recordings right in the subheading and lede.

Workers hear drug deals, medical details and people having sex, says whistleblowerApple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or "grading", the company's Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Also, unlike previous reports from Bloomberg that focused on Amazon's Alexa and the VRT NWS report that focused on Google, The Guardian's report came out after Apple plastered privacy-gloating billboards up in Las Vagas, Toronto, and Hamberg.

Google has also suspended manual review of voice data, initially in Europe following the VRT NWS report, and as of today Globally, according to TechCrunch following an order from German regulators under Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

○ Video: YouTube
○ Podcast: Apple | Overcast | Pocket Casts | RSS
○ Column: iMore | RSS
○ Social: Twitter | Instagram

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.