Report Claims Siri Is Sending Recordings Of Drug Deals And People Having Sex To Apple Contractors
According to an interview in The Guardian, Apple hires contractors to listen to and “grade” roughly 1% of daily Siri recordings. These contractors are tasked with deciding whether Siri responded appropriately to a question and whether or not Siri activations are accidental or deliberate. Unfortunately, these Apple contractors will often hear private information and recordings. Siri can accidentally be activated if it believes that it has heard its wake word or the phrase “Hey Siri”. Apple Watches and HomePods in particular will mistakenly record 30 seconds of material.
A whistleblower from Apple recently told The Guardian that, “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on.” Although these recordings do not include a user’s name or other specific identifier information, they are partnered with location, contact details, and app data. The whistleblower also noted that, “If there were someone with nefarious intentions, it wouldn’t be hard to identify [people on the recordings].”
Apple does state that some Siri recordings will be analyzed for quality, but they do not disclose that this work is often done by human beings. There is also no way for Apple users to completely turn off Siri or opt out. To top it off, the whistleblower noted that there is a high contractor turnover and that the contractor hiring process is not particularly critical. The whistleblower feared that some contractors may abuse their position.
This situation is also awkward for the contractors. According to the whistleblower, contractors can report technical issues, but they are unable to report content. The contractors could therefore be an unwilling witness to a past criminal act. These recordings not only violate a user’s privacy, but bring up complicated legal issues.
It was also recently discovered that Apple’s Watch Walkie Talkie app allowed people to listen in on others’ conversations without consent. Apple did not reveal any details about the vulnerability and argued that it had not been used. The app has since been relaunched with a security fix. Let’s hope that Apple will be as concerned about user’s discomfort with subcontracting as they were about the Walkie Talkie vulnerability.