Digital assistants like Alexa, Google, and Siri use humans to help train them. This has been going on since the beginning but it's only hit the mainstream media and consciousness this year. Siri, in particular, has caused controversy because, for the last few years, Apple has been pushing privacy as a top-down, front-line feature.
So, what's going on?
Matt Day , Giles Turner , and Natalia Drozdiak writing for Bloomberg on April 10th, 2019:
Obviously, the report focused primarily on Amazon
But, the reporters did their jobs, asked the obvious follow up question — what about other virtual assistants? — and answered that as well:
Lente Van Hee, Ruben Van Den Heuvel, Tim Verheyden, Denny Baert, writing for VRT NWS on July 10:
Putting the name of your publication in the title — and in almost every graf — is tight!
But they do offer this as well:
Then, just this weekend, Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian:
Although that's been disputed: There is an iCloud Analytics toggle in the privacy that says it includes Siri analytics. But none of these things are crystal clear and that's largely the problem.
Here's how Amazon responded to Bloomberg:
And Google to VRT News:
And Apple to The Guardian:
Even though Bloomberg reported on it all back in April, and I'm fairly sure it's been talked about off and on for over a decade, The VRT and now The Guardian's pieces really caught fire. Especially the latter.
Maybe because, unlike the others, it front-loaded the part about sex, crime, and business. Or maybe just because it came out after Apple started putting big privacy billboards up in Las Vegas, Toronto, and Hamburg.
So, while some say Apple is being held to a higher or different standard here, it's not by anyone other than Apple themselves.
At issue is whether Amazon, Google, and Apple properly disclose the process — in other words, explicitly say other humans are part of the process — whether they effectively allow you to opt-out and not just of the service itself but specifically the human AQ, if you want to, and whether or not that should be a specific opt-in instead.
That's on top of the larger arguments about whether or not security white papers and privacy policies or terms of service agreements are even human discoverable and legible to begin with, and at the opposite extreme, whether the concept of privacy in the digital age is viable or beneficial.
And, even more broadly and, I'd argue, more importantly, we're all still only at the beginning of this debate.
It's about location and behavioral and voice and video data capture and analysis right now but, soon enough, the entire world — including all of us — are going to be constantly ingested, all the time, by a wide range of sensors for AR, VR, and autonomous technologies.
It won't be very different from living on the Grid or in the Matrix, and if we don't figure out how to handle personal privacy now it's going to be even more problematic with everything coming next.
To help me sort through all of this, I have voice-first expert Brian Roemmele on the line. Hit play on the video above to watch our discussion.
Apple is putting up billboards, literal billboards, saying how seriously they take our privacy, yet look at where we are with these Siri stories, both from back in April and just now, this weekend.
Facebook and Google say they're making their products much more private but so far they only seem to mean private from developers — developers who compete with them on their own platforms. And ongoing investigations and Facebook's recent $5 billion fine make exactly zero dent in their policies or with their investors.
Some find this unacceptable and demand changes and penalties severe enough to compel changes. Other find the very concept of privacy in the data age ludicrous, even constraining.
So, we've summarized the articles, the accusations, the concerns, the responses, and the dismissals, and we've talked about why it's currently done this way and how it could be done better in the future.
Now I want to hear from you. What do you think about all of this, especially privacy, the right or ridiculousness of it, now, today?
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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.