Apple Makes Siri Listening Feature Optional Due to Privacy Concerns

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Apple has announced that it would cease recording Siri interactions and will enable consumers to partake of the program of their free will. Starting from this fall, it will also handle the program’s operations without the use of contractors.

This follows an earlier leak that showed that consumer interactions with Siri were accessed by such contractors. The report also stated that the voice assistant was easily activated and had picked private information on drug deals, sexual activity, and doctor appointments.

According to an anonymous source, these contractors had access to 1,000 recordings per day. Such figures strike consumers and stakeholders as alarming especially during a period when big companies such as Facebook were criticized for allowing human employees to listen to user recordings.

Reports from The Guardian suggest that Apple has terminated the contracts of such external contractors. It also reports that the employees have been placed on paid leave since August 2 on which the listening operations were called off.

In a blog post, the California based firm said it will not keep audio recordings of Siri interactions. It also said, “We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve“.

The blog post also stated, “When customers opt-in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions,”. The firm also used the blog post to promise that it “will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.”

Siri Recordings Cancelled by Apple: An Essential Measure

In a period of concerns regarding user privacy, Apple has stepped up efforts to ensure it stands as an example in this regard. For instance, its IOS 13 will come with various privacy features that will prevent apps such as Facebook or WhatsApp from gathering user data in the background

Even if the Siri leaks could damage the company’s image, Apple might have won back the hearts of consumers by solving the issue. Furthermore, after Apple released an emergency fix for iOS to handle security problems, a Forbes contributor commented that everyone makes mistakes.

However, analysts are more concerned with the company’s response. Consumers should be given the freedom to either join or leave Apple’s data collection program. Such practice is acceptable under the EU general update to data protection regulation (GDPR).

John Opdenakker, an ethical hacker, believes that Apple’s move was “necessary”.  “It wasn’t previously clear to users that Siri recordings were recorded, uploaded to Apple’s servers and listened to by Apple contractors.” he also added.

Although Sean Wright an independent security researcher shares the same opinion, he said: “I guess there will always be some element of risk using these voice-based services since the microphone will often be in an always-listening mode and could potentially capture any conversations that you have.”

An ESET cybersecurity expert, Jake Moore stated that the analysis of a user’s conversation played major roles in developing voice assistant technology. “But at least they are requesting such permission,” he added.

Will it be a good idea to have your conversations recorded by Siri? If you value privacy, it might not be a good decision. Opdenakker further points out “Even though the recordings will only be listened to by Apple’s own employees, I wouldn’t opt-in as I value my privacy,”

Moore also suggests that users should consider other people involved in their conversations before opting for the program. This is because allowing Siri to record such conversations might invade their privacy.

With the increased use of devices such as Google Home and Alexa, people are showing concerns about their privacy. Also, many firms including Apple have called off their listening programs after heavy criticism. Possibly Apple has made Siri stand out from the competition by taking this decision.

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Posted by Abiodun Adewusi

Abiodun Adewusi is a freelance writer who lives in Nigeria. As a writer, he is passionate about providing content on technology helping people keep up with the latest trends. You can see some of his work on Medium and Ezine.

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