Apple Apologizes for Listening to Customers on Siri

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Apple has come under fire for retaining sensitive customer audio recordings and sharing them with external contractors.

On Wednesday (August 28), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) issued an apology for hiring contractors to listen to its customers on Siri.

The company makes audio recordings for its voice recognition technology and Siri quality ratings. The company stated that moving forward it will not hold customers’ audio recordings, but will continue to retain written transcripts for artificial intelligence and machine learning purposes.

Siri, which was launched in 2011, is a voice assistant found on Apple’s iPhones and other devices. It is designed to answer voice commands and queries by users.

The Guardian revealed in July that external contractors had access to sensitive details about Apple’s customers. These contractors, who were part of the company’s quality control process, would sometimes hear Siri audio recordings of illegal incidents and personal information.

The system was reported by an Apple employee to the Guardian.

“There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on,” the whistleblower said. “These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”

On August 2, Apple suspended the grading program, resulting in 300 job losses for Siri contractors in Europe. It now plans to add measures for its audio privacy policies; customers will be able to choose to share their recordings with Apple, and audio files will no longer be contracted to outside parties.

The announcement comes as Apple is trying to position itself as a company associated with customer privacy and security. In June, it announced new sign-on features specifically designed to protect customer data by keeping email information private.

“Many commentators have seized on the irony of Apple having the worst privacy practices for voice recordings given their rhetoric around being a privacy champion,” Ben Thompson, an analyst at Stratechery, said in a post on Tuesday (August 27).

Apple is not alone in its customer privacy practices. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) experienced a data leak that included 1,000 audio files from its home voice assistant in July. Similarly, contractors were able to listen to customers’ conversations.

Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has also been scrutinized. In May, Senator Chris Coons questioned the company about how it stores customers’ audio data. Amazon issued a response where it said that it holds onto customers’ audio files until the customer elects to delete them.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was discovered to have listened to customers through Cortana and Skype calls in May, while Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was found to have been listening and transcribing customers’ calls on its messenger app in August.

As privacy scandals continue to unfold, the privacy infringement repercussions are unknown for Apple.

After Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in March 2018, it took regulators over a year to settle a US$5 billion fine for the company.

Shares of Apple gained 2.3 percent after the announcement on Wednesday, reaching US$209.01 at market close on Thursday (August 29).

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Securities Disclosure: I, Dorothy Neufeld, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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