Apple contractors regularly hear confidential information including recordings of couples having sex, doctor’s appointments, addresses, and even possible drug deals, as part of their job providing quality control, or ‘grading’, the company’s Siri voice assistant, according to a report by The Guardian.
Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, but a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company.
They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.
The California-based technology giant says the data is used to help Siri and dictation understand you better and recognise what you say.
But the company does not explicitly state that that work is undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymised recordings.
Apple told The Guardian: “A small portion of Siri requests are analysed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analysed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.”
The company added that a very small random subset, less than 1% of daily Siri activations, are used for grading, and those used are typically only a few seconds long.
A whistleblower working for the firm, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed concerns about this lack of disclosure, particularly given the frequency with which accidental activations pick up extremely sensitive personal information.
The whistleblower said: “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”
That accompanying information may be used to verify whether a request was successfully dealt with. In its privacy documents, Apple says the Siri data is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services. There is no specific name or identifier attached to a record and no individual recording can be easily linked to other recordings.
Accidental activations led to the receipt of the most sensitive data that was sent to Apple. Although Siri is included on most Apple devices, the contractor highlighted the Apple Watch and the company’s HomePod smart speaker as the most frequent sources of mistaken recordings.