Apple and Google have announced that they will limit the way audio recorded by their voice assistants, Siri and Google Assistant, are accessed internally by contractors.
Let’s start with Apple. Apple’s privacy hump began a week ago when The Guardian ran a story revealing that contractors “regularly hear” all sorts of things Apple customers would probably rather they didn’t, including sexual encounters, business deals, and patient-doctor chats. Despite Apple’s protestations that such recordings are pseudonymised and only accessed to improve Siri’s accuracy, the whistleblower who spoke to the newspaper was adamant that in some cases : These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data. Apple now says it has suspended the global programme under which voice recordings were being accessed in this way while it conducts a review.
By interesting coincidence, Google finds itself in a similar fix. Germany’s privacy regulator recently started asking questions after Belgian broadcaster VRT ran a story last month on contractors listening to Google Assistant recordings. Google’s privacy fig leaf : We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2% of all clips. Nevertheless, Google now says it has also suspended access to recordings in the EU for three months.
It was Amazon which started this ball rolling in April when a Bloomberg report reported that revealed that – yes – recordings stored by its Alexa voice assistant were being accessed by contractors.