Siri response grading


Privacy is one of the big reasons for using iOS. Apple’s business model isn’t selling us to advertisers, and Tim Cook has said privacy is a fundamental human right. Even the big G’s most ardent fans couldn’t say the same, unless they were winking mischievously like a mischievous mischevant. I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word.

The corollary of this stance is Apple is held to a higher standard in the industry and popular press. Indiscretions that are largely passed off or ignored as routine in the Android or PC world, like faking security patches, bloatware from phone carriers, and installing rootkits, are met with howls of outrage and derision if or when Apple does it. As they should be; you can’t sell yourself as more principled and honourable if you stoop to the same tactics.

So when The Guardian broke this important story last month, my #picardfacepalm was in full effect:

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 are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world.

Apple have since suspended this programme, but it’s chilling. Why did a news story have to break about it for Apple to do this? Were the improved stats worth this potential hit to their reputation?

A large part of this comes down to motives. When Apple says they did this to improve a product instead of selling to advertisers, they’re one of the few companies I’d believe. Does this make me naïve? Probably. Either way, this doesn’t explain or excuse handing out to third party contractors; I can’t muster the words to describe how moronic a decision that was.

I don’t use Siri or any of these other voice assistants. I wish I could say it was only due to a principled stance on privacy, but it’s also that I haven’t ever felt the need for them. Between Apple’s excellent Shortcuts app and Agile Tortoise’s Drafts, I can initiate a workflow with a tap. But I also intuitively knew that anything that isn’t processed locally would be sent to a remote server, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I hate when I’m right.

But Apple, please don’t pull this stunt again.

Author bio and support


Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

The site is powered by Hugo, FreeBSD, and OpenZFS on OrionVM, everyone’s favourite bespoke cloud infrastructure provider.

If you found this post helpful or entertaining, you can shout me a coffee or send a comment. Thanks ☺️.