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).

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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.

  • Transparency is the foundation of trust, especially in business. No marketing slogan can replace that. Also Rene, get your facts straight. Your article says "Google has also suspended manual review of voice data ... according to TechCrunch following an order from German regulators..." The sourced article says, "Google says it responded to the DPA on July 26 to say it had already ceased the practice — taking the decision to manually suspend audio reviews of Google Assistant across the whole of Europe, and doing so on July 10, after learning of the data leak." So no, it wasn't following an order from German regulators. They had already suspended live audio reviews weeks prior.
  • Of course, google is the epitome of the lack of transparency in business--they took it to a whole new level and made the user the product.
    Apple is the corporate gold standard for protecting privacy and this latest issue with Siri won't change that--a minor misstep that has been quickly addressed.
  • Sure.. Recordings of your voice with no record of it at all! That's definitely transparency or maybe surveillance is a more proper term. Recording people without their knowledge and outside of their control. Who knew that Apple's "Gold Standard" is contractors listening to your bedroom time? Bravo!
  • Bedroom time? There’s no proof that they recorded anything outside of manual or accidental Siri activation. You can monitor network packets on the iPhone, Siri only sends data after you purposefully use it, or say Hey Siri if you have that activated
  • "Workers hear drug deals, medical details and people having s..e..x.., says whistleblower" Did you read the article?
  • I don't really trust "The Guardian" to be honest, the amount of **** they come out with. I believe Apple took recordings, but not of that nature. And if you actually read my comment, monitoring network packets doesn't support their claims either. I believe evidence, not heresay
  • That's up to you. I have no issue with the publication. If you believe that Apple has suspended the practice because article is false and just want to justify their advertising misrepresentations... Well, you have your right to an opinion, and leave it at that.
  • You have an issue with the Pulitzer prize winning Guardian? I'm sorry they have done more regarding privacy than any corporation has..
  • lol I really hope that was sarcasm
  • No the Pulitzer Prize is not an award for sarcasm.
  • DMP89145. Of course he never read the article. Its a Negative article about apples shady backend tactics. People like Danny are massively blinded with the REALITY DISTORTION FIELD. They think apple is almighty, in it for them, creating the best products ever, do no wrong and so on. So, NO he never read the article. he will deflect and defend with the "I don't trust the Guardian" comment. Instead of actually seeing that apple is no better than Google, Microsoft, Huawei etc. They are ALL THE SAME.
  • Not everything you read on the internet is true
  • Unless it's positive publicity toward apple.
  • Or negatively towards Apple in your case
  • “a minor misstep that has been quickly addressed.” ...because they got caught.
  • Well, you’re wrong. Apple has been telling users about this for years, same as Google, and Amazon. The typical user just clicks by the terms of use in order to use the service right away. These “revelations” are not all-of-a-sudden but ginned up by those seeking to sensationalize and stir up the public. Class action lawsuits are probably being filed as we speak. I believe Apple, Google, Amazon when they say the recordings are anonymized and cannot be linked to individuals. While we’re on the subject I think Apple should cool its jets about being the most security conscious tech company. When you tout stuff like that it’s like waving a red flag in front of the bull. The haters and critics will jump on claims like that with gusto.
  • Heres the problem, the terms and conditions are pages upon pages long, written in legalese. And from what I read, it never implicitly says someone will listen to your content. Also we are talking about accidentally Siri invokes. The user is even unaware that's happening.
  • Accidental is either holding down the button by accident, or by "Hey Siri" being wrongly picked up, the latter I can sympathize more with, the former is really just human error
  • Accidental is accidental. Period.
  • Well true, but the user is at fault even if they're unaware in that case. You can forget to lock a door, but it's not the keys at fault
  • And I, for one, will choose to allow Siri to do its job. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion by paranoids and the tech news media looking for page clicks.
  • Exactly this. Apple took recordings in order to improve the service, and a dumb article from the untrustworthy "The Guardian" blew it out of proportion like much of the media does. I wonder if anyone has one of these audio files of drug dealers? Hmm, probably not, we'll never see the light of day of that recording, we're just meant to believe heresay
  • Deflect and defend as always.
  • Not like it matters now, they've stopped doing the recordings, time to get on with life and continue enjoying using Siri
  • So just becuase they stopped it's OK. You are the biggest fanboy ever.
  • I never said it was ok, that's just you putting words in my mouth… again
  • Thats the issue its not Siri doing the job, its human contractors. That's why this is a controversy.
  • You're assuming that's it's easy for Siri to improve itself, that's incredibly advanced. I'm not sure how Apple plan to do it now, but I can understand why humans were listening to recordings providing it was done in a way where strict rules were followed and data was anonymized and deleted when done with
  • I’m assuming nothing.
    Apple just didnt do enough to discloses that people can listen in on Siri request. If I’m wrong please some pull up the text that says this. Also “anonymized” is not truly anonymous. Get enough data points researchers can find
    out who you are.
  • The controversy is then to do with transparency, rather than the human contractors themselves, which I fully understand and believe Apple was in the wrong there