Apple apologizes for listening to Siri recordings, promises changes

Apple apologized on Wednesday for letting contractors listen to commands that users give to its voice assistant Siri. The company is now promising changes.

The practice, which is designed to improve the quality of Siri, came under scrutiny after The Guardian reported last month that contractors could hear users’ private conversations. Apple initially responded by temporarily suspending the practice earlier this month while the company reviewed it.

In a blog post Wednesday, Apple said it will require users to opt in to having their recordings listened to by human reviewers, rather than having this be the default. And only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions, rather than contract workers.

The company also said it will no longer keep audio recordings of users’ interactions with Siri.

“We know that customers have been concerned by recent reports of people listening to audio Siri recordings as part of our Siri quality evaluation process,” Apple said in the post. “As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize.”

Apple isn’t the only company that’s been forced to rethink its approach to reviewing recordings from users amid privacy concerns. Google temporarily halted human reviews of its recordings and Amazon recently changed its settings to make it easier for people to avoid any review of Alexa recordings. Facebook also has paused human review of some users’ audio clips.

These moves come in the wake of months of media scrutiny over tech companies relying on real people to review recordings from voice assistants, often unknown to the user. The coverage has served as a stark reminder that many consumer tech products are not simply supported by faceless algorithms and artificial intelligence, but instead require a human touch in order to improve.

AI experts previously told CNN Business there is a legitimate need for humans to listen to some parts of conversations in order to make voice-operated technology work. But experts also said tech companies should do more to make it clear what happens to recordings from these systems and what privacy risks exist.

For Apple, the stakes are particularly high. Apple has repeatedly tried to position itself as a privacy-focused business, in a clear attempt to draw a stark contrast with competitors including Facebook and Google. Apple CEO Tim Cook often refers to privacy as a “fundamental human right.”