Apple 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.
Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. 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.
Apple says the data “it is used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognize what you say”.
But the company does not explicitly state that work can be undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymized recordings.
Apple told the Guardian: “A small portion of Siri requests, analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses, analyzed in secure facilities, and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.” The company added that a minimal random subset, less than 1% of daily Siri activations, is used for grading, and those users are typically only a few seconds long.
A whistleblower working for the firm, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears over their job, expressed concerns about this lack of disclosure, particularly given the frequency with which accidental activations pick up compassionate personal information.
Siri can be accidentally activated when it mistakenly hears its “wake word,” the phrase “Hey Siri.” Those mistakes can be understandable – a BBC interview about Syria was interrupted by the assistant last year – or less so. “The sound of a zip, Siri often hears as a trigger,” the contractor said. The service can also be activated in other ways. For instance, if an Apple Watch detects it has been raised and then hears speech, Siri is automatically activated. Read more